January-February 2019

Tiny Dancer

An 11-year-old from Rockville is a rising star in the ballet world

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Photo by Skip Brown.

Corbin Holloway has always been a dancer. His mother, Michelle Holloway, says that as a very young boy Corbin would watch an episode of the reality show Dance Moms and then replicate the moves in the basement of their Rockville home. Corbin performed tricks during halftime of his older brothers’ basketball games; he even taught himself a back handspring and aerial flip.

After one of Corbin’s youth football games at Georgetown Prep, Michelle, who teaches algebra 2 and calculus at Walt Whitman High School, took him up the street to see CityDance, part of the Strathmore Music Center in North Bethesda. Leaving the studio, Corbin said it was the best day of his life. He enrolled in CityDance at age 7, and by 9 he was training seriously. At 11, he is considered one of the best young ballet dancers in America.

“The first year, it was super hard,” Corbin says. “I was always goofing around. I didn’t really care.” Asked to choose which dance style he wanted to continue with at age 9, Corbin opted for ballet because “it was the hardest. Then, apparently, I got more serious,” he says.
Corbin is now the youngest dancer at CityDance Petite Conservatory, a select group of students, many of whom spend four to six hours a day in practice. During breaks, Corbin sits in the Strathmore café area and works on his online home-school program. The program gives him and a dozen other students the opportunity to practice with the conservatory’s ballet master, Stanislav Issaev, a two-time international gold medalist at the Varna and National Soviet Ballet competitions and a former principal dancer with the Moscow Classical Ballet.

Corbin is able to turn six or seven arabesque turns, or pirouettes with one leg extended (many dancers—including adults—can only do four). “It is very rare for a dancer to be able to turn seven,” Issaev says.

For Corbin, the chance to dance with Issaev made it worth leaving Burning Tree Elementary School in Bethesda. His hazel eyes light up when he describes his dance practice routine. When he speaks, he leans his thin, 4-foot-11-inch frame back in his chair, athletic sandals dangling off his socked feet. He’s wearing a T-shirt and athletic pants, which he will change out of before dancing in tights, ballet technique shoes and a cropped tee.

“Talent like Corbin comes along every 20 to 30 years,” says CityDance Artistic Director Lorraine Spiegler.

Corbin, who won the boys’ competition in his age group at the 2018 Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP), an international ballet competition, most recently landed the role of Fritz in the Kennedy Center’s December production of The Nutcracker. The role of Clara went to Makenzie Hymes, another conservatory dancer. She and Corbin are paired together for Nutcracker performances.

Spiegler had been hesitant for Corbin and Makenzie to audition for The Nutcracker, since they were working on other shows and competitions. “I said off the cuff, ‘If you get Fritz and Clara, then we’ll talk about it.’ The night of the audition I get a call, ‘Well, they got Fritz and Clara.’ ”

One of Corbin’s favorite things about the role was meeting the other young boy who played Fritz (two children were assigned to each role). At the studio, Corbin is one of the few boys, and most of the other students are three to five years older.

Corbin’s older brothers, who attend Whitman and St. Jane de Chantal Catholic School, come to all of his performances, and Michelle says they’ve encouraged his dancing. His father, Cornell, a former defensive back for the Indianapolis Colts, knows firsthand the pressure of being a star athlete, and he also finds Corbin’s talents astonishing.

Because of Corbin’s age, Michelle kept him at CityDance last summer rather than allowing him to study ballet in a different city. But plans are being discussed about where he might go this coming summer when he is 12. New York and Philadelphia are options. Corbin is currently preparing for CityDance conservatory’s winter showcase, “Creating the Magic” and YAGP in Philadelphia. His busy schedule meant he had to turn down the starring role in Billy Elliot at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia.

For Corbin, the chance to perform at the Opera House at the Kennedy Center made all of his efforts worth it. “I’ve never really performed on a stage as big as that,” he says, his face alight.