LDS Young Man to Attend World-Class Ballet Academy

Contributed By By Kara Houser, News and Events contributor

  • 6 November 2013

Isaac Sanders reads the Book of Mormon while holding a ballet stretch. When Isaac attends school in Moscow, Russia, he hopes to be a positive example so others know what it is like to be a member of the Church.  Photo by Emily Sanders.

Article Highlights

  • Isaac Sanders began classical ballet training at the age of 11.
  • Now 14 years old, Isaac has competed in several world-class competitions and has been admitted to a highly prestigious ballet academy.
  • Isaac can already see how his experience as a “ballerino” is preparing him to serve a mission.

“I’m already learning a lot of things that will help on my mission. … I am traveling and meeting lots of different people. Missionary work is really all about being an example, so I try to show other dancers what it is like to be a member of the Church.” —Isaac Sanders


Walking down the sidewalk, Isaac Sanders looks just like any other teenager. Then he leaps into the air, does a Gene Kelly heel-click, and returns to earth with a solid pirouette; that is when you realize that Isaac is a dancer—and not just any dancer, but one good enough to be invited to the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, Russia.

Isaac, 14, is a member of the teachers quorum in the Lakeland First Ward, Hayden Idaho Stake. He is also a “ballerino”—a male ballet dancer. “Ballet would not be complete without us,” Isaac said. “Our job is to make the girls look good.”

Isaac began training in classical ballet at the age of 11 at the Brindusa-Moore Ballet Academy in Pocatello, Idaho, where his family lived while his father, Justin Sanders, attended Idaho State University. After graduation, his family moved to north Idaho, 500 miles away from his ballet school. His parents said that it was a real test of faith and prayer when they were told by his teachers that Isaac was rare and that he needed to stay in Pocatello to continue his training. “Isaac is a genuine prodigy who is meant to go far,” said his teacher, Sergiu Brindusa.

“We needed to know if this was a gift that Heavenly Father really wanted him to focus on,” said his mother, Emily Sanders. “Money and all the traveling were concerns, but more—we needed to know we would not be putting him in an environment that would hurt him or his testimony.”

After many heartfelt prayers, the Sanders family received confirmation that this was indeed a talent that needed to be developed. For two years, Isaac lived with host families in Pocatello, with periodic visits home.

“When I watch him dance, it is beautiful and I feel so proud and happy,” Emily said. “But when I think of him as my son, I feel a little robbed because I am letting him go so early. It’s a different path—one that we never thought of—and it is wonderful but also terribly difficult.”

A ballerino’s role is not easy, but it has to look effortless. Beyond the constant stigma of dancing in a genre where the emphasis is on female dancers, their physical training is rigorous. They must be extremely strong, without looking bulky. Male dancers control the stage with their power. “Some of the best male dancers have a vertical jump nearly six feet high,” Isaac said. “That takes a lot of athletic ability. Ballet is a good foundation for anything, even other forms of dance. It makes you pay attention. You have to be smart and concentrate.”

Isaac is comfortable as a solo dancer with many productions under his belt. His training eventually led to a flurry of competitions and opportunities. Isaac competed in the Youth America Grande Prix, the world’s largest student ballet competition and considered to be the Olympics of the ballet world, and placed third in the San Francisco semifinals. He then went on to compete in the finals in New York City. He was also a competitor in the World Ballet Competition in Orlando, Florida, in June. Isaac received a full artistic scholarship to the Bolshoi Ballet Academy’s six-week summer intensive program where Russian ballet masters were looking for the best of the best.

Isaac strikes a ballet pose in the air. Photo by Emily Sanders.

A few days after he arrived home, the invitation came to attend the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, Russia. The Russian style of ballet is the epitome of discipline and drama, powerful athleticism, and bold expressiveness. This is the style of training that produces greats such as Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev. Isaac’s schooling at the academy will include stretching, strength training, technique, partnering, and acting, in addition to Russian language courses, history courses, and continued school curriculum sent from home.

“This is an incredible opportunity and a great honor,” said his mother. “Fewer than a dozen Americans are invited to attend the Bolshoi each year. The education he will receive has the potential to make him a effective liaison between the Russian and American communities.”

Through ballet, Emily can see that her oldest child has grown. “He thoroughly enjoys time with his four sisters and baby brother,” she said. “He knows what he wants to do and how he is going to accomplish it. That gives him a direction and focus.”

“I’m already learning a lot of things that will help on my mission,” he said. “I’m learning how other families live and work and how to take care of myself. I am traveling and meeting lots of different people. Missionary work is really all about being an example, so I try to show other dancers what it is like to be a member of the Church.”

Isaac is excited and extremely honored to attend the Bolshoi Academy, but he knows it will take a lot of effort. As he works diligently to become the best dancer he can be, Isaac is enthused about what the future holds. With this leap forward he has confidence that family and faith will keep his feet firmly grounded on a sure foundation.