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By Cari Hachmann

Nicole Denney, 17, who will be a senior at San Clemente High School this fall, has been invited to dance with the prestigious Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB).

“This is a really big deal for a student of her age to be offered a paid contract to dance with a professional dance company,” said Nicole’s mother, Tracey Denney.

Tracey said Nicole was over the moon when she found out she would be dancing for “such an incredible company.”

Nicole will leave on July 5 for New Zealand, where she will travel the country with RNZB for its “Bold Moves” tour. She will perform in Auckland, Wellington, Palmerston North, Napier, Christchurch and Dunedin, before returning to school in September, albeit fashionably late for her senior year.

Nicole was first noticed by RNZB’s artistic director, Patricia Barker, at Youth America Grand Prix in New York. YAGP is the world’s largest nonprofit international student ballet competition and scholarship program, open to dance students of all nationalities 9-19 years old.

Nicole won Top 12 in the New York finals in both 2017 and 2018 for the junior and then senior division. She has received Full Merit scholarships for Summer Intensives at The School of American Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and Harid Conservatory.

The SCHS student has been dancing since she was 3 years old.

San Clemente High School senior and ballet dancer Nicole Denney, 17, will depart on July 5 for New Zealand, where she will tour with the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo: Courtesy of Denney Family
San Clemente High School senior and ballet dancer Nicole Denney, 17, will depart on July 5 for New Zealand, where she will tour with the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo: Courtesy of Denney Family

She has been training with her dance studio at Dmitri Kulev Classical Ballet Academy in Laguna Hills, the official ballet school of Orange County Ballet Theater (OCBT).
Barker reached out to Dmitri and Jennifer Kulev, artistic directors and owners of the Laguna Hills academy, as they were looking for another dancer for their New Zealand company tour.

Dmitri Kulev then shared the exciting news with Nicole and her mother.

Tracey said she was a little hesitant at first, imagining her daughter so far away and navigating New Zealand alone. But after seeing her daughter’s eyes light up at the opportunity and, following a few days of family discussion, Nicole was granted permission to embark on what her mother expects to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

During the Bold Moves tour, the Royal New Zealand Ballet will perform “Serenade” by George Balanchine, “Artifact 2” by William Forsythe and “Stand to Reason” by Andi Schermoly.

According to Tracey, Nicole has danced in Serenade before and has the technique, stamina and experience needed to dance this specific Balanchine piece.

Tracey said it is a huge challenge for her daughter to balance rigorous ballet training and be a full-time student, and the young dancer owes many thanks to her teachers in Laguna.

“We really appreciate the support of San Clemente High School and, of course, the amazing ballet training with Dmitri and Jennifer Kulev Classical Ballet Academy,” said Tracey Denney

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