‘I just want to be a good male dancer’

MERIDIAN — Matthew West left home when he was 16 years old to pursue a career in ballet.

He devoted his teenage years to perfecting his talent, moving to Pennsylvania and Texas to receive the best training the country could offer. He attended high school online, doing most of his homework in the evenings. He gave up school dances and football games. He was without hometown friends and family.

“It’s hard not having a mom around,” he said. “But I have zero regret.”

Matthew’s commitment and devotion has earned him a career at just 18 years old. He was hired to be a semi-professional ballet dancer for Houston Ballet II, the seventh largest ballet company in the country.

“I don’t have a dream job,” he said. “I just want to be a good male dancer.”

The love for dance

Matthew was 2 years old when he fell in love with the movie “Singin’ in the Rain.” He’d watch it and dance for hours in front of the television. His mother, Motoko, figured he enjoyed the music. She didn’t realize at the time he had a gift.

“I knew nothing about dance,” she said.

Matthew’s constant dancing around the house prompted his parents to enroll him in an after-school ballet class at age 5. Over the years, he advanced to ballet classes at Capital City Ballet Center and Eagle Performing Arts Center.

“When he first walked through the door, I knew he had natural talent,” said Cathy Giese, the co-director of Eagle Performing Arts Center.

Matthew excelled two components that stood out to Giese — talent and desire.

He practiced six days a week and was willing to travel to auditions in Columbus, Salt Lake City and Seattle.

“The biggest sacrifice was time and travel expenses,” Motoko said.

As Matthew grew, he was exposed to more classes, which has set him up for a professional career.

“He’s at a good place right now,” Giese said.

The dancer

Matthew has skills in many styles of ballet — modern and contemporary — but his focus is classical ballet. He has trained at The School of American Ballet in New York City, Pacific Northwest Ballet School in Seattle, Central Pennsylvania Youth ballet and Houston Ballet Academy. He earned scholarships to help pay his way.

He chose not to compete for admittance to a ballet school.

“I work hard to become the best,” he said.

He spent his senior year at Houston Ballet Academy training six days a week for nine hours a day. He would start at 9 a.m. and end at 6 p.m with an hour for lunch. The days included weight training, Pilates, dance rehearsal and performances.

“Using your body the entire time is tiring and some days I’m sore,” he said. “The schedule is rough.”

Photo credit: Adam Watkins

Matthew spent his evenings completing schoolwork through Idaho’s online school Inspire Connections Academy. Before starting the online program four years ago, Matthew attended schools in the West Ada School District.

During his time at Houston Ballet Academy, Matthew was selected among a group of dancers to join Houston Ballet II — a one-year commitment starting this summer. He will travel the nation and perform.

“He has the example in front of him and now we will see where it takes him,” Giese said

Matthew said he hopes to become a principal ballet dancer someday which is the highest ranked performer within a dance company. His eyes aren’t set on higher education yet because ballet is what he loves.

“This is my life and what I look forward to every day,” he said.

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