Manistee native Paul Craig performing with Boston Ballet

Even though he’s only in his early 20s, Manistee native Paul Craig has been on the road perfecting his craft for many years, working his way up to become a full-time member of the company at the Boston Ballet.

Craig started with classes in tap, jazz and hip-hop at Manistee’s Conservatory of Dance when he was 6 years old.

“A couple years into it my teacher, Deb Knight, wanted me to try a ballet thing, hold one of the girls in place,” Craig said. “I didn’t want to at first, but then I caved in and did it. Later, another teacher of mine, Jefferson Baum from the dance program at Blue Lake (Fine Arts Camp), came and saw it and saw some potential and said I should think about doing this as a profession some day. I started slowly, but surely, and came into being a professional.”

He spent five summers at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, and when he was 16 he made the commitment to become a professional dancer by enrolling at the Virginia School of the Arts.

“Jefferson Baum recommended that I go to a professional school, so I looked around the country and sent audition videos to a number of different schools,” Craig said. “I had to pick one that would give me a full scholarship. One thing that’s good if you’re a guy in ballet is that you’ll get full scholarships because they need guys in ballet.

“I spent two years there and after graduating went to Boston Ballet as a trainee, which is like an unpaid apprenticeship. The following year I got promoted into their apprentice program. After that year I got promoted into the main company and I’ve been there ever since. Hopefully as time goes on I’ll keep on moving up.”

In his five years with the Boston Ballet, Craig has been in a number of shows, including “Romeo and Juliet,” which will run Nov. 3 through Nov. 13, and after that “The Nutcracker,” Nov. 25-Dec. 31.

Craig was back in Manistee in June spending time with his family — parents Rennae and John Hansen and his three sisters and two brothers. During some summers, he has toured with Boston Ballet.

Paul Craig teaching a ballet class this summer for the Conservatory of Dance.

“Last year we went to Spain for six weeks, which was great,” Craig said. “The summer before that we went to Korea. Then a couple years ago to Moscow. We get some really cool touring opportunities with the company.”

Touring has been a big part of Craig’s life

Craig is no stranger to touring. When he was at Blue Lake at age 14, he participated in a trip to Germany, Italy and France.

“That was a great experience to be able to tour these countries just doing ballet. That helped me grow as a dancer.”

Craig said Boston Ballet is relatively small, with about 50 dancers, compared to some companies in the United States.

“We do lots of different shows,” he said. “Boston Ballet is known for doing classical ballet and contemporary ballet, so we do shows like ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ ‘Don Quixote,’ ‘The Nutcraker’ as well as other contemporary ballets that are more famous in Europe — sort of weird, modern ballet.”

Craig said it was challenging to leave Manistee at age 16 to attend the Virginia School of the Art.

“Yes, it was difficult, but I had the time of my life. Those were some of the best years and I consider them to be my college years. It was eye-opening for ballet, and eye-opening for life experience in general. I felt not up to par with the rest of the dancers there.”

Craig enjoys talking about how he has moved up the ranks wherever he’s been.

“It’s like I went up the ladder in every stage,” he said. “When I was at the Conservatory of Dance I went up the ladder. I started slowly, but went up the ladder. When I was in Virginia I slowly went up the ladder and when I went to Boston Ballet and I felt like I was not up to par with the rest of the dancers, but I’m slowly building myself up, slowly getting promoted. Hopefully I’ll keep on getting promoted and be the best.”

He said he believes it’s an advantage to not start at the top.

“If you say you’re the best one here, how are you going to grow? If you think you always have something to learn, you’re always going to be growing.”

Jake Knight (left), who operates Manistee’s Conservatory of Dance, with Paul Craig when Paul was in town in June.

Where does he plan to go in the future?

“I don’t really have plans beyond this. I have plenty of opportunity to grow here and I don’t want to look too far ahead because I have so many options where I’m at. I could decide, maybe in the next couple of years, that I might want to quit the ballet thing and be a Broadway person. Or maybe I’ll want to get really serious about ballet and just do classical and not contemporary. There are a lot of options, so I just take it year by year, still growing and working on my technique.”

Craig enjoys coming home

Craig said he always enjoys having the opportunity to go home.

“I try to come home at least once a year, but some years it’s only been for a couple of days. I love to come home. Boston’s beautiful. It’s like a little big city, but it’s great to come out of the city and be, well, this is just home. It’s relaxing, nice to be with the family.”

In June he taught a ballet class for the Conservatory of Dance.

“Maybe one day after I can’t dance anymore I’ll become a teacher or some sort of director.

“It all started right here at the Conservatory of Dance,” Craig said. I keep in touch with Jake and Amanda (Knight) and Deb (Knight) in Petoskey. She’s the one, without her, I definitely wouldn’t be where I’m at right now. I visit the studio when I come home to see my old friends. Some of these kids who are now graduating and moving on, I remember them when they were 5 years old when they started. It’s great to see them and actually be able to teach them now. That’s great fun.”

“Paul’s been exceptional,” Jake Knight said. “From the beginnings he showed promise for ballet and a good amount of drive. It’s awesome having him come back and help. The students are excited to see him since he’s like a mini-celebrity for our studio. It definitely helps them to see that professional dancers really do exist, that it’s achievable with a good amount of hard work.

“We’re really proud of everybody,” Knight said. “We have the philosophy that even if someone doesn’t go on to be a professional, we create a life-long lover of dance, and when ballet comes to town, they’ll come watch it. When there’s a lot of arts in the community, it makes the community better as a whole. So, we’re successful 100 percent of the time.”

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Posted by Dave Yarnell

Dave was formerly the News Advocate features writer and retired in November 2013.

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