Kristen Marshal has lived in Richmond Hill for almost her entire life. She has grown up in the Richmond Hill school system. But for her last year of high school, Marshal decided to do her schooling online so she could move to Atlanta.
At 17, Marshal was hired by the Atlanta Ballet Company to start her career as a professional dancer.
“Most ballet companies have summer intensives where dancers will go for about five weeks to work on their dancing,” Marshal explained. “You audition and they place you in a certain level such as advance or pre-pro level, where they look for people to offer jobs to. You dance for six hours a day, six days a week. It’s a great learning opportunity.”
Marshal has been going to the summer intensives at the Atlanta Ballet Company for a few years. Last year and this year, she was placed in the pre-pro level. This past summer, the ballet company offered Marshal a job, and she decided to pursue her dream by accepting the offer, moving to Atlanta and finishing high school online.
“I really like the performing part of dance,” Marshal said. “I like putting on the costumes and makeup and going on stage to perform. I’ve always enjoyed dancing and expressing myself through it. I definitely want to do dancing professionally for as long as I can. I’ve always wanted to be a professional dancer growing up.”
Marshal began dancing at the age of 3, when her mother put her into dance classes. She began with ballet and learned other styles during her summer intensives in Atlanta.
“During summer intensives, I was exposed to more styles such as contemporary, modern, jazz and tap,” Marshal said. “Ballet and contemporary are the two I do most now.”
Marshal credited two women for supporting her most during her dancing career — her mom and her dance instructor.
“My mom has definitely been a huge supporter of everything I’ve done,” Marshal said. “She drove me everywhere when I was younger.”
Her dance teacher, Gaye Baxely of the Madeleine Walker Coastal Ballet Theatre in Savannah, has pushed Marshal to learn more and go to the summer intensives in Atlanta. She has been able to give Marshal good advice on being a professional dancer because she was once one herself.
“Kristen is brilliant,” said Baxely, who was a professional classical ballet dancer in New York for 20 years. “She is a natural talent, but she also has terrific work ethic. She works hard and she understands the way the technique works. That is going to help her not only develop as a terrific athlete, but also as an artist. When you develop a really advanced technique, it frees you up to focus on the artistry of dance, and that is your ultimate goal as a professional. When you work with choreographers now, you just have to be able to do anything — and she will.”
Marshal has been working with Baxely her entire time at the Ballet Theatre. At the age of 12, Marshal became an assistant teacher with the studio, demonstrating in the classes and assisting younger students.
“She’s going to grow as an artist and be a really beautiful dancer — she is now, but she will continue to grow,” Baxely, who has been teaching ballet in Savannah for 30 years, said. “We’re excited that when she left us she was ready for a top professional program like the one in Atlanta Ballet.”
Baxely explained that to become a professional dancer, a person needs a lot of dedication — something Marshal has.
“She came here every day,” Baxely said. “She might take two days off out of the week, but she was here five days, sometimes six days a week. We are thrilled for her, but we will always miss her. She was so much a part of us. It’s like raising a child — you raise the child to go on and have a great life. It’s the same with a dancer, you develop a dancer to go on and have a great life. That’s our goal — to train and send them off.”
Starting this job and moving to Atlanta meant Marshal could not finish her high-school career at Richmond Hill High School as planned. Instead, she is taking online classes to graduate.
“Since it’s my first year doing online schooling, it’s something I’ve had to get used to,” Marshal said. “You have to be very self-disciplined, and there is a lot more work with it. It’s an adjustment but I really like it. You have to be adamant about getting your assignments done on time.”
Marshal said she also enjoys living in Atlanta. She has lived there for almost two months.
“Everything is so much closer. I never have to drive more than 10 miles to get to anything,” Marshal said. “It’s a big change from having to drive all the way into Savannah, which takes like 30 minutes. I like that the town house I live in is very close to the studio. The people up there are really cool, and I’ve made some good friends.”