Dahlia Denicore just wanted to dance.
As a toddler, she wouldn’t take off her tap shoes.
As a child, she threw herself into lessons.
As a teen, she convinced her parents to let her leave home for professional training — late for a dancer in search of a career.
And to become a member of the Orlando Ballet company, she flew hundreds of miles to participate in the recent Ukraine benefit, crashed on a friend’s couch, continued her education online, worked full time — whatever it took.
All the effort paid off.
In just her first weeks with the company, Denicore has been promoted and hand-picked by choreographer Michael Pink as one of the principals in Orlando Ballet’s production of his “Dracula,” which opens Oct. 20.
It’s a meteoric rise — that she has been working on her whole life.
Dahlia Denicore started professional training later than most pro dancers but is a new apprentice with Orlando Ballet. (Orlando Ballet / Courtesy photo)
“This will be my professional debut,” she says, a smile spreading across her face. “It’s a dream.”
Orlando Ballet artistic director Jorden Morris says she’s earned her spot on the stage.
“She has obviously proven what she’s willing to go through to get an opportunity,” he says.
And in a business where so much depends on being in the right place at the right time, “I just thought, ‘I am going to be the right person in the right place at the right time for her,’” Morris says.
Growing up in a small town in Virginia, Denicore “was put in a ‘baby ballet’ class at 3 years old just for fun.”
Her parents, who will visit Orlando this weekend to watch their daughter’s professional debut, didn’t know what they were starting.
When Denicore was given a pair of tap shoes as a youngster, she wore them everywhere. Watching a dance performance, she began her own show in the audience.
Dahlia Denicore, shown in rehearsal, will play Lucy at certain performances of Orlando Ballet's production of "Michael Pink's Dracula." (Orlando Ballet / Courtesy photo)
“I just stepped into the aisle and began tapping,” she says. “I drove everyone crazy.”
Her teachers at the local school saw the potential and the drive — and encouraged her to attend a professional school elsewhere, as many serious dancers do.
“If she wants to make it, she has to get out of here,” Denicore remembers them saying.
One problem: “Being lawyers, my parents didn’t understand the process of sending me away,” she says. “They would say, ‘The is our family time.’”
Dahlia Denicore performs in the Ukraine Ballet Benefit in August at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando. (Orlando Ballet / Courtesy photo)
Finally at age 17 — “it took a lot of teeth pulling,” she says with a laugh — she was permitted to attend a professional training program.
Not that she hadn’t been dancing up a storm. In her small-town school, she played leading roles and partnered with professional guest dancers. But still, during two years at San Francisco Ballet School, she felt like an impostor as her technique lagged behind that of her colleagues.
“They had all lived away from home since they were babies!” she exclaims.
So she buckled down.
She inquired about auditioning for Orlando Ballet and was offered the chance to study at the school over the summer and join Orlando Ballet II, the company’s minor leagues so speak.
But Denicore wasn’t sure she could pay to get here from California and find housing.
In a moment of serendipity, the fashion-store chain for which she worked was opening a new store in Orlando’s Mall at Millenia and needed someone with experience on the ground here. Her employer flew her out — and housed her in a hotel for the duration of her studies. Not that she minded hours of dance class alongside hours of retail work.
“It was worth being on my feet 13 hours a day and no days off,” she says.
When the summer session ended, she returned to Virginia.
Then Orlando Ballet sent out an email, asking dancers if they would participate in the Ukraine Ballet Benefit at the Dr. Phillips Center.
Denicore immediately said yes. Then had to figure out how to return.
She arranged for roommates, flew back, slept on the new roommates’ couch, used ride-share services to get to rehearsals.
The Orlando Ballet staff had no idea she wasn’t living in the area when she accepted.
“That just shows the dedication,” Morris says.
He and associate artistic director Lisa Thorn Vinzant had already been impressed by her in the summer classes. The Ukrainian dancers also spoke highly of her work rehearsing the benefit. And then Morris and Vinzant saw her perform: “I remember turning to Lisa and saying, ‘I think we promote Dahlia right away.’”
And just like that, at age 20, she was named an apprentice to the main company.
Shortly afterward, choreographer Michael Pink arrived in town to cast Orlando Ballet’s season-opening production of “Dracula.” When the time came to pick the women who would share the leading role of Lucy, the vampire’s love interest, Pink selected veteran dancer Hitomi Nakamura — and Denicore.
“I wake up at 3:30, doing the choreography in my head,” says Denicore — who attributes her success in part to getting eight hours of sleep each night.
Choreographer Michael Pink works with Dahlia Denicore on a scene from Orlando Ballet's production of "Dracula." (Orlando Ballet / Courtesy photo)
That’s not easy when she’s also taking online college courses in calculus and physics. She’s eyeing a career as a pediatrician, maybe with Doctors Without Borders, when her dancing days are done.
“I have a passion for medicine,” she says. “I will go to medical school as an older student.”
After all, she’s used to starting later than others — and then catching right up.
Morris says her late professional start isn’t holding back her dancing because she has that elusive ‘It’ factor.
“You can’t stop watching her,” he says. “You have to find the artist first. You can fix training as you go along. And she’s so bright, she can apply corrections so fast.”
And Denicore believes she’s right where she’s meant to be.
“To tell a story and make someone feel something, so immersed in what’s happening they forget where they are,” she says. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Find me on Twitter @matt_on_arts, facebook.com/matthew.j.palm or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want more theater and arts news and reviews? Go to orlandosentinel.com/arts. For more fun things, follow @fun.things.orlando on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.