What’s it take to be a professional ballerina? Austin teen featured on PBS Kids show explains

Matilda Solis, 15, started dancing with Ballet Austin when she was 9. The Austin teen recently was featured on the new PBS Kids show “Kid Stew,” which is about kids, for kids and made by kids. Her episode premiered earlier this month and will re-air June 30.

Solis now is studying ballet as a student at the School of American Ballet in New York City. She left home in February 2017 to first train at the Miami City Ballet School, and then last summer found her way to the School of American Ballet.

Matilda Solis is featured in ‘Kid Stew’ episode. Family photo

Even though she’s used to watching herself in the mirror when she dances, it was weird to see herself on television, she says. “Kid Stew” interviewed her when she was still in Miami. “I thought it looked really good at first, but I didn’t know what to expect,” she says. “I was pleasantly surprised.”

It was a tough decision to leave Austin and her family, including twin sister Isabella, also a dancer.

“For me, I felt like I had reached a point where I wasn’t improving as much as I wanted to,” she says. “There’s more that I could have been doing elsewhere.”

She knew she needed to take that next step and go to places where she could train for a career. “I knew I needed to step up the ladder,” she says.

Leaving home meant that her parents — her mother is a lawyer and her father owns a juice store in Belize — couldn’t follow her. They visit every few weeks, though.

“It’s weird, but I’ve definitely grown accustomed to not having my parents around,” she says.

Now she lives in the dormitory, takes two or three 90-minute ballet classes a day and does online academic work in between. She also takes Pilates classes to strengthen her body.

When she’s 18, she can audition for an apprenticeship with a company for a year, and if that goes well, she will be asked to join that company’s corps or she’ll have to find another spot in a different company or head to college.

“It’s tough, for sure,” she says of the process to become a professional ballerina. If she is accepted into a company, she plans to take online college courses while dancing.

Solis comes from a diverse background. Her father is from Belize, and her mother is multiracial, including European and African-American. At her school, she says, about 35 percent of the students are not white. Ballet, she says, is changing.

“You can tell that a lot of companies are trying to make their corps more diverse,” she says. “It’s amazing, but it can be difficult to know that’s how it is now.”

She’s been told to be who she is, and there are people like her who are diverse and successful.

Her favorite things to perform are jumps. Right now she is not jumping. She’s in Austin recovering from foot surgery. In two weeks, she’ll be able to start dancing in ballet flats, and in three weeks, she hopes to be back in pointe shoes.

It took some time to get comfortable with pointe, which she started when she was 12.

“You have to have a good foundation to start pointe,” she says. “You have to have strength and everything you need to be able to do that.

“I loved it so much.”

Good training to strengthen her body is important, as well as diet. While we might think of ballerinas as people who eat very little, that’s not the case, she says. “We focus on eating,” she says. “It’s a really important factor. You need food to build muscle and have energy. Ballet is so strenuous. It’s important to get all the nutrients you need.”

Solis says she loves everything about ballet. “It’s such a difficult thing to do,” she says. “It’s such a hard activity, but it’s also so rewarding. … Once you work at it and achieve it, it’s so satisfying.”