On Her Way

Cecily showing how it's done at the James R. Thompson Center. Photo by Dennis Peralta.

At 16, Cecily Romaynne Shives knows what she wants to do with her life…dance! In fact, she’s known that she wanted to be a dancer since she was 10-years-old. Luckily, she is blessed with strong feet, innate talent and some fantastic genes (her parents are Evie Peña Shives, former ballerina at Tulsa Ballet Theatre and teacher at Chicago Ballet Arts and Willy Shives, former dancer and current Ballet Master at Joffrey Ballet). Add to the mix her love of the art form and spirited determination and you have a young artist ready to learn it all.

Shives gets up at 5:00 am to prepare for her days as an honor student at the Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts) where she takes academic classes in the mornings and dance classes at the conservatory in the afternoons. “It’s a very long day,” she says and admits to sometimes doing homework during her commute on the Red Line. Growing up in Pittsburgh, she remembers her first ballet class was actually the family living room where her Mom would teach her terminology. At 2, she got her first taste of studying at a local studio and was hooked, but didn’t get serious in her training until the family moved to Chicago. “My parents gave me a choice to keep dancing and I haven’t regretted the choice I made since,” says Shives.

Right now, she’s in Texas attending an American Ballet Theatre (ABT) summer intensive workshop for a month. She auditioned at the request of a friend (who didn’t want to go alone) and didn’t expect anything to come of it. “All the other girls were twice my height and had so much flexibility,” she recalls. “I was really nervous.” After the initial shock wore off, Shives let the excitement hit her. RB asked her a few questions as she packed for her ABT summer adventure.

What are your goals? Do you want to be a professional ballerina or would you consider other genres?

I want to become a professional dancer when I’m older. I think when dancing professionally you must know about other genres of dance because most companies don’t just have one in the repertoire. I feel that professionals don’t get anywhere unless they are well-rounded at all types of dance. I want to finish college at some point in my life, whether it’s before or after my dance career. I would eventually like to go to law school and follow in my grandfather’s footsteps. I have always been intrigued with the law and standing up for justice.

Which style do you like the most and in which are you the strongest?

I am best at contemporary ballet. I love classical ballet, but like to branch out of that. I love being off my leg and allowing gravity to take its course. Pointe/Variations class has been a lot of fun for me because of my strength on pointe and my understanding of each ballet. At Chiarts, we have learned some of Gerald Arpino’s works and variations from Paquita and Raymonda.

What’s your favorite role danced so far?

Peasant Pas de Deux from Giselle. The first time I performed it I was 12 and it was one of the best experiences of my career. I felt so strong and it improved my self-confidence.

What’s the best advice your parents have given you?

The best thing they told me was to learn every single part whether it was boys or girls. They told me to learn it and write it down, so in case someone is injured I know the part. This has paid off greatly.

Are you proud to be following in their footsteps?

I don’t think I’m exactly following in their footsteps. They both had great careers, but that was their own thing. I want to carve my own way in the dance world. I’m proud to have them as my mentors and I love that I have people who support my decision in becoming an artist.

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