Letterkenny teen Sarah Sweeney is preparing to jet off to New York this summer and train with the world renowned ballet company - the Joffrey Ballet School.

Sarah Sweeney, ZoNa Dance Co.

The 15-year-old is one of two local students to be selected for the Joffrey Ballet Summer Intensive programme after the elite school’s first ever auditions were held in Ireland last December.

Sarah will have the unique opportunity to study under world-class master instructors this summer in New York alongside talented dancers chosen from all over the world.

Sarah is the daughter of James Sweeney and Irene Simmons. She has been dancing with the ZoNa Dance Co. in Letterkenny since she was 12 years old. Sarah’s teacher, Jessica Peoples, encouraged her to audition for the Summer Intensive programme with Joffrey Ballet.

“When I heard they were auditioning in Ireland I was really amazed. I was going to do the audition for the experience, and I wasn’t expecting to get picked at all,” Sarah told Donegal Woman.

Sarah and a fellow student Claire Ní Bhraonáin competed for hours against 150 other young ballet students in Dublin last year. It was the day before Christmas Eve that she got the good news of her acceptance. Claire’s audition was also a success.

“Mum got the email first and called to me to check my email. It was like an early Christmas present,” Sarah recalled.

The summer programme will be a rigorous and testing course, but Sarah is looking forward to the experience. This July will see her travelling to the US with a relative and staying in dorms with other talented teens from all over the world.

“I’ve never been to New York before so it’s exciting. I will be doing mostly ballet classes, as well as some contemporary classes and stretching and strengthening,” she said.

Sarah Sweeney, ZoNa Dance Co.

Sarah is currently studying for her Junior Cert exams in her third year at the Loreto Convent in Letterkenny. “The thought of the summer is what’s getting me through this year,” she admitted.

As she prepares for the summer of a lifetime, her teacher Jessica is making sure she and Claire are ready to be tested by some of the world’s best instructors.

“Jessica is really pushing me, but she’s really pushing everyone in my class. We are training in pointe shoes now which is very difficult,” Sarah said.

Sarah dreams of being a professional dancer some day, while this summer intensive in New York will be a great step in the right direction.

Sarah Sweeney, ZoNa Dance Co.

“The Joffrey Ballet School is a very elite and amazing school with amazing teachers. It’s such an honour to be accepted. The school doesn’t just focus on ballet, but jazz and musicals too. It’s very versatile and you need to be trained in all styles if you want a career as a dancer,” Sarah said.

Jessica Peoples, Director ZoNa Dance Company, said that Sarah and Claire are in for the time of their lives this summer: “Growing up in America myself, I always had my sights set on the Joffery Ballet, it is one of the most renowned vocational ballet training programs in the world, training some of the most successful professional dancers internationally. When I saw the Joffery Ballet were coming to Ireland for the very first time to audition students for their summer intensive I knew I wanted to pass this opportunity on to my students.

“Sarah and Claire both decided to travel to Dublin and were put through their paces with the audition. I was beyond excited to hear the news that they were accepted into the summer program!!! The hard work that the girls put in every week, and with Sarah only starting ballet 4 years ago – this is a phenomenal achievement, I am so proud to teach these hard working, dedicated and passionate dancers each week. They will have the time of their lives in New York this year.”

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