Ballet is having a moment. A moment that hopes is here to stay.
DeBona, a Pittsburgh native, stars in the CW Network’s “Breaking Pointe,” a reality series centered on behind-the-curtain workings of Ballet West, an elite company in Salt Lake City.
The camera captures ballet’s gritty realism and its beauty under the hot lights, as well as the characters' quest for perfection, competitiveness and intensity of rehearsal—a true labor of love.
DeBona grew up in New Castle and at 12 years old moved to the Steel City with her family. She began to train at Pittsburgh Youth Ballet Company & School, located in , under the instruction of owner Jean Gedeon—a notable name in the industry.
The dancer took some time off “to be a kid,” but soon returned after desperately missing ballet. She was a junior at Chartiers Valley High School and had approximately two years to get caught up before audition time.
She and her parents decided attending college was the best choice, where she landed at Indiana University Bloomington for its ballet program. DeBona had nearly finished four years, and—with one semester left—started commuting back and forth to Pittsburgh to attend Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s graduate program.
After completing college online, for four months she drove to New York City each weekend for tiresome auditions and continued to dance throughout the week—ending at 6 p.m. on Fridays and starting at the barre at 8 a.m. on Mondays.
For DeBona, 28, it wasn’t always a grand jeté—until employment at Ballet West.
“I started at 24 as a professional ballerina,” she said. “I was told plenty of times I was never going to make it. That’s part of the reason why you see me being super serious on the show. I recognize you’re lucky to be in our spot. You can’t take it for granted—it doesn’t last.”
DeBona credits Gedeon for much of where she is today. First and foremost, for the repertoire, she said.
“I owe her so much. She insisted on challenging us. We didn’t do in-house choreography. She brought in big-name ballets. We did a lot of George Balanchine, which are hard to tackle.”
DeBona said many schools weren’t allowed to perform such pieces, but PYB in McMurray ran with it.
“Because of her (Gedeon) name, they trusted her knowledge and it allowed us to get exposure and experience. She would ship us everywhere, too. She would drive us hours for workshops. To her, it was that important.
“Everybody knows her. Her technique is excellent. Her ballet training is excellent.”
DeBona said Gedeon has dancers in just about every company in the U.S.—including the Pennsylvania Ballet, New York City Ballet—and Ballet West, of course.
The pick-up comes at a time when ballet companies—all nonprofit—are struggling and money isn’t being generated, they said.
"'Breaking Pointe'" might help bring ballet to the forefront of the arts," DeBona said. “There are lovely dancers and beautiful productions, but ballet needed something to bring them to this century. The old art form is gorgeous, but we weren’t changing with the times."
Entering her sixth season at Ballet West and ending her first on TV, DeBona said the rehearsal process is still daunting.
“It’s hard to struggle,” she said. “Nobody likes to struggle. After every show we start to rehearse for something new. But, once you get on stage it all comes together and you realize why you put yourself through the pain.
“I enjoy it, but I feel like the show doesn’t show how much.”
“Breaking Pointe” tracks the trials, tribulations and company romances between its characters, while knocking out stereotypes, showing the athletic demand and physical endurance necessary to be at the top.
And, the level of discipline? Possibly the darkest and most difficult.
“It’s a hard pill to swallow at first when you see your embarrassing moments on TV,” DeBona said. “I’d love them to show me in a bed of roses all day, but that’s not life. The truth is more people can relate when you’re going through hard times.”
Both DeBona and Tilton agreed viewers all have someone on the show that they love or hate. They've been documenting feedback—good and bad—via social media.
A viewer thanked Tilton for his honesty and said they could relate to he and DeBona's relationship.
Having had cameras roll from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily for six weeks, DeBona said she’ll never look at reality TV the same.
So what's next for the performer?
She said she’d love to return to Pittsburgh eventually. In fact, she’s auditioned for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, but was told no.
“Pittsburgh’s beautiful,” she said. “The culture, the ethnicity. I miss the people and the food. At first when I didn’t get the job, I was disappointed. But now that I’m away and I see how well I’m doing, there was a better place for me at that time at Ballet West. I’m not sure I’d have the same career. There are so many amazing opportunities that still keep happening.”
They said they hope this propels ballet's mainstream moment for those “young, talented people” coming behind them, and for the dancers in similar situations whose parents spent endless time and money during their childhoods to make their dreams come true.
“Breaking Pointe” was an experiment of sorts for the CW. It was the first summer in network history they brought in new shows, not reruns.
DeBona said she’s hoping for a second season.
“Ratings have consistently gone up each week,” she said. “If there was a second season, I know it would be 1,000 times better. It would show the depth of ballet even more.”
The "Breaking Pointe" finale airs tonight at 8 p.m. You can view previous episodes here.
For more information on the Ballet West dancers and to win a live 30-minute video chat with a cast member, click here.