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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 13, 2006

Dancer keeps in shape with leaps and bounds

By Paula Rath
Advertiser Fashion Writer

Twelve-year-old Costa Allen effortlessly practices his grand jeté at the Capoeria Studio.

Photos by ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Age: 12

Profession: Sixth-grader at Mid Pacific Institute and ballet student

Height: 5-foot-5

Weight: 102 pounds

Workout habits: 13 hours of ballet class and four hours of rehearsals a week. Physical education class twice a week for one hour, including everything from swimming to running to basketball. Swimming is the best complement to ballet.

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When and why I started ballet: "I saw the white cat solo in 'Cats' when I was 4 years old."

My good foods/bad foods: Good: Caesar salad, carrots and strawberries. Bad: Waffles and Big Macs.

My biggest motivator: "Looking at people who are better than I and trying to reach a higher level."

My biggest roadblock to fitness: "Not always seeing what I want to see in the mirror. I need more turnout, and I have to work my feet more."

My next challenge: "Scoring in the top six boys in the International Youth Grand Prix ballet competition next week in New York."

Advice for those in the same boat: "If you love it, just keep on trying, because dancing is its own reward."

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Allen does the "standing second position stretch" to maintain his flexibility.

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Not everyone is built for ballet. In fact, precious few bodies can handle the stresses and strains placed on the feet, ankles, knees, backs and necks of a ballet dancer.

It can be tortuous for anyone, especially a child, to try ballet if their body isn't suited to the movements.

Dancers must be loose-jointed and flexible. Additionally, said Lee Olsen of Pacific Youth Ballet, the dance form favors those who are thin and light, particularly since female dancers must be lifted by their partners.

Olsen said the following characteristics help define a dancer's body:

  • High arches in the feet.

  • High waist.

  • Long legs.

  • Flexibility in the hips.

  • Long neck.

    — Paula Rath

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    Allen demonstrates the "attitude stretch."

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    Constantine "Costa" Allen

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    When Constantine "Costa" Allen of Kahala was 4 years old, his mother took him to see "Cats." It was actually an outing for his sister, Asha (then 6), but Anita Piilai-Allen thought she would take Costa and give his dad, Dean Allen, a break from baby-sitting. (Well, a bit of a break anyway. The couple also has twins, Alex and Nikki, who were toddlers at the time.)

    Asha fell asleep, but Costa sat on the edge of his seat throughout the performance.

    Rudolf Nureyev, one of the world's most renowned ballet dancers, had much the same story: As a little boy, his mother took him along with his sister to a ballet in Russia, and Nureyev knew from that moment on that ballet was to be his passion.

    In Honolulu and New York ballet circles, there are those who believe Costa has the talent and drive to be another Nureyev.

    "He became obsessed with 'Cats' and insisted I buy him the video. He watched it over and over and over, and by the end of a week he had learned all the dances," his mother said.

    The 4-year-old Costa ceaselessly begged his parents to take him to dance classes until they agreed and enrolled him at the Movement Center in Kaimuki. "He was thrilled by it," Piilai-Allen said. As the Movement Center introduced Costa to various forms of dance, it was ballet that captured his interest.

    At the age of 5, the precocious kindergartner said to his parents: "I think I'll concentrate on ballet."

    Costa began to study ballet with Lee Olsen of Pacific Youth Ballet, who recognized his talent immediately. "He has an extraordinary degree of talent and passion, and he was a little wild man," Olsen said. "My job was simply to channel his passion, not to create it."

    According to Olsen, Costa already had the "presentation, performance, poise and charisma" necessary for a dancer. She taught him technique, which he quickly developed.

    Costa has, Olsen explained, a natural ability to turn, even six or eight pirouettes at a time. "I had to put him on a diet of pirouettes; I told him that he couldn't do that many until he could do each one perfectly."


    The Allens are the farthest thing from pushy stage parents. Piilai-Allen is a gynecologist with a busy practice. Dean Allen manages her practice and works as a house husband, helping care for their four children.

    Costa's penchant for pirouettes came as a big surprise to both of them. "Hey, I'm from Indiana and we bounce balls — the boys and the girls," Piilai-Allen said, with a chuckle and shake of her head.

    Costa encountered some confusion about his love for ballet when he first attended Kahala Elementary School.

    "Some of the other kids didn't understand that boys dance, too," he said. "But when I danced in the talent show, everyone saw how much I loved it and how hard it is, and they never gave me a hard time again."

    The famous choreographer George Balanchine once said that ballet is even more difficult than professional football because you have to look beautiful while doing it. In Costa's case, ballet has helped the 12-year-old excel in physical education and every sport he tries.

    Now attending Mid Pacific Institute, Costa is an honor-roll student. He loves science and struggles with math. Ballet competitions, he said, inspire him to keep working toward the next level in dance, and in life.

    Next week, he will head to his fourth competition in the Youth America Grand Prix, considered, Olsen said, the "kids' Olympics of ballet." The Youth America Grand Prix awards scholarships to leading dance schools in the United States and around the world, and is the only student ballet competition of its kind in America. It provides opportunities that can become a stepping stone to a career in ballet. Costa has performed well in every competition.

    This June, while many kids his age are hanging out at the beach, Costa will compete in the American Ballet Competition; Olsen believes he is the first dancer from Hawai'i to be invited to this competition held by the New World School of the Arts in Miami.

    Later in the summer he will participate in seven weeks of the American Ballet Theatre's summer intensive program, with four weeks in Detroit and three weeks in Orange County, Calif. He has full scholarships for both sessions.

    Costa said he loves the competitions and is energized by working with other striving dancers. His long-term goal is to be a principal danseur with the American Ballet Theatre in New York.

    The sixth-grader has discovered another benefit of ballet: being surrounded by lots of beautiful girls and getting to dance and romance them on stage, and even to pick them up and hold them in his arms. This has inspired him to want to be as strong as possible. He looks forward to being 14, when he can begin lifting weights.

    "We never expected this. We let the child guide us," Piilai-Allen said. And the talented pre-teen, it seems, is letting his passion guide him.

    Reach Paula Rath at prath@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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