15-year-old Jonathan McCray Jr. was not your typical kid. He loved classical music, he could moonwalk by age 9, and rather than riding his bike through the streets, his mother would find him choreographing dance routines in their backyard.
Today, high school freshman McCray is already a successful ballet dancer. He was recently invited to attend the School of American Ballet in New York City on a full scholarship. The program takes place throughout the summer and is highly competitive, with only a small amount of applicants accepted each year.
McCray, who is entering his sophomore year at Firestone High School, has been dreaming of this opportunity for years.
“It’s unbelievable,” McCray says. “When I saw the notification, I tapped it and read it and froze. I called everyone. I was jumping up and down and just so excited.”
Though McCray was shocked, his mother, Angelita Hampton, says she wasn’t surprised at all. From the time he was 2 years old, she says it was clear McCray loved dancing and had a knack for dazzling crowds.
In fact, in second grade, McCray received a standing ovation at his school’s talent show after performing Michael Jackson’s “Black or White.” That’s when Hampton realized dancing was McCray’s calling.
“He was amazing,” Hampton says. “He moonwalked, he did every signature dance that Michael would do. And when the program was over, I went looking for him. I’m like, ‘Where is this boy?’ And there was a big crowd of people around my baby. And I’m busting through the crowd. And he’s signing autographs,’” she laughs.
Over the last three years, McCray has been attending Nan Klinger Excellence in Dance studio in Cuyahoga Falls where he hones his skills and practices ballet with professional dancers.
The challenge of ballet is what keeps McCray coming back to this style of dance. McCray says he’s had to do a lot of explaining over the years to show people just how athletic it is.
“Ballet is really hard,” McCray says. “It takes a lot of strength, a lot of patience, a lot of training and a lot of mental strength. It takes a real athlete.”
Aside from the physicality of ballet and perfecting the form, McCray says he loves being on stage and sharing his hard work with others.
“It feels so good. It’s surreal. To finally share with people what you’ve been working on and for them to appreciate it so much and stand and clap. Honestly, it’s just like, ‘Wow. I did that.’ That’s why I felt like I needed to perform during quarantine. That’s a feeling that you start to miss.’”
Before the pandemic began, McCray was supposed to perform “The Snow Queen: A Frozen Fairy Tale” with Ballet Excel Ohio at the Akron Civic Theatre. Though the event was initially canceled because of the pandemic, it’s been rescheduled for this June. McCray will be one of the lead performers.
Watch McCray in action on June 12 and June 13 by visiting akroncivic.com.
Noor Hindi is The Devil Strip’s equity and inclusion reporter. Email her at noorhindi.com.
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