On Pointe

A Rolling Hills ballerina fulfills a lifelong dream to join the San Francisco Ballet and proves, with help from influential teachers, that she’s in charge of her own destiny.

WRITTEN BY JENNIE NUNN


On a typical day, San Francisco–based ballerina Isabella Walsh is out the door no later than 8:30 a.m. From there the Rolling Hills native attends a Gyrotonics class twice a week (a combination of tai chi, yoga and dance) before hitting the ballet studio for class at the San Francisco Ballet, followed by rehearsal with a short break until 6 p.m. Then it’s dinner and bedtime before repeating the cycle the next day.

“It has been a dream of mine since I was young, and the fact that it’s a reality is really surreal,” says Isabella, who joined the Corps de Ballet earlier this year after completing levels six and seven—one year as a trainee, followed by one year as apprentice with the company. “In ballet you do everything yourself, and your work ethic is how far you’re going to go. No one is going to do it for you.”

Isabella began dancing when she was just 4 years old. Later she joined Peninsula School of Performing Arts (PSPA), where she studied with Vera Ninkovich and Roberto Almaguer. “Without these amazing teachers, I wouldn’t be where I am now,” she adds. “Palos Verdes is one of the most beautiful places, and growing up in such a calm setting really made me dream big. As ballet got more serious for me at PSPA, all I wanted to do was go to a pre-professional program.

That was my goal.”

So as she got more and more serious about ballet, she knew she needed to make some sacrifices. “As I got older, I had to isolate myself more and more to focus on what I wanted to achieve,” she says. “Going back to Palos Verdes always brings back so many memories. I will always be grateful for growing up in a city like it, as it really did push me to succeeding what I wanted.”

However, Isabella’s success as a ballerina might also be blamed on good genes. Born into an athletic family (her mother, Beatriz Alvarez Alhambra, is a European taekwondo champion and Olympian; her father was an avid skier in college; and her twin brother was a member of the Junior Olympic snowboarding team), Isabella was almost destined for the stage. “My mom gives me great advice on how to take care of my body as an athlete and to find a balanced life of nutrition and wellness,” she says.

“Life is truly a journey, so try not to stress about the future. And don’t
let other people influence your dreams, because they are yours. It’s up
to you, and you have control.”

But at 5’10”, the statuesque beauty admits her height has put her in a special category. “It took me some time to realize that my height puts me at a great advantage,” she says. “You stand out for being different, and it gives you a unique opportunity to be different as your own artist. I feel like I don’t regret it, and it’s made me confident in my own skin. And I think I’m at an advantage.”

Isabella, who spends time at San Francisco’s Baker Beach during her limited time off, also acknowledges she is in a super-competitive industry. “Ballet can be very competitive amongst other people I work with,” she says. “But I don’t want any negativity to consume me. You always have to keep your head held high and never pay attention to the gossip and negativity that some consume themselves with. Performing always gives me a rush of happiness because it makes me grateful for getting to do what I love every day.”

Her advice to aspiring dancers? “Determination,” shares Isabella, whose ultimate goal is to become principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet. “Life is truly a journey, so try not to stress about the future. And don’t let other people influence your dreams, because they are yours. It’s up to you, and you have control.”

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