It was during an outdoor walk in the fall of 2016 that Melanie Gibbs, co-owner and director of Boca Dance Studio (BDS) in Boca Raton, Florida, gave Skylar Smith a heart-to-heart and a push out of the nest.
Skylar had attended a summer intensive with Boca Ballet Theatre a few months before and was now at the start of her junior year in high school. Melanie had noticed there was a change in Skylar after the summer intensive. “I could almost see it on her face. She was ready for more” than what BDS could offer her, Melanie says. Skylar remembers the conversation well. She was coming off of a serious ballet focus after the summer intensive, and in the back of her mind, she knew it was time to intensify her training if she was going to seriously pursue ballet as a career.
“I was 16 and scared to say something. I was afraid it would seem like I was betraying Melanie,” Skylar says. She was grateful to Melanie for taking the initiative with the conversation, because “we both knew it was time for me to move on.” With Melanie’s encouragement, Skylar finished out her junior year with BDS knowing it would be her final year there.
Many years before, Melanie’s and Skylar’s studio journeys had happened almost concurrently. Skylar’s parents enrolled her in BDS’s summer camp in 2002; Melanie took over the studio in 2004. Skylar was tapped to be on the competitive team at age 6 and quickly turned into what Melanie calls “a lifer.” “She was a dream student with a God-given facility,” Melanie says.
As Skylar progressed technically, she became goal-focused with 100 percent commitment. By age 12, she had made a personal commitment “that I was going to achieve what I set out to do,” Sklyar recalls. “I often stayed after class to work on my own to master certain steps.”
“Skylar set the tone for what professionalism looked like inside this group of young dancers,” Melanie says, and her peers followed suit—whether that was stretching on breaks, applying corrections, or trying a new and unfamiliar movement. “If we offered a new event, or had a guest instructor with a quirky style, she was always open minded and all-in.”
This made Skylar an unassuming influencer of sorts. Other students figured if Skylar was doing it, it must be a good idea. “She had a certain level of power that was never used selfishly; but only for the good of the studio,” Melanie says. She credited Skylar’s parents for her strong character and work ethic.
As for Skylar, she wasn’t even aware of this. “I was kind of in my own bubble when it came to dance,” she says.
She was also a budding leader. Each summer, Melanie would lead a select group of students to New York to take open classes and see Broadway shows. On one of their last trips, she watched Skylar navigate subway maps and help the group figure out routes to their classes and performances. “I felt that I was watching her mature in real time. Her growing confidence in the city, her willingness to step up and help, and the credibility she had with the other dancers really set her apart,” she says.
As her skills developed, Skylar’s goal was to attend high school at Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach. Being accepted to the school was a huge milestone and marked an important transition for Skylar’s family: they did not live in the school district, yet her parents were willing to make a move in order for her to enroll. During her freshman and sophomore years, Skylar studied ballet, pointe, and modern at Dreyfoos, but it wasn’t until that Boca Ballet Theatre summer intensive (and the follow-up conversation with Melanie) that Skylar went all-in on ballet.
“I flipped a switch,” she says of her change from the competition team focus she had at the studio to the ballet focus at Dreyfoos. In addition to Melanie and the teachers at BDS, Skylar credits Heather Lescaille, dean of dance at Dreyfoos, for believing in her. She told me, “you have the ballet bug and can do this if you really want it.”
The extra focus on ballet paid off. After graduating high school, Skylar danced as a trainee with Pennsylvania Ballet (now Philadelphia Ballet) from 2018 to 2020, performing in productions such as Romeo and Juliet, The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, and La Bayadere. Under her first professional contract with Sarasota Ballet in 2020, the pandemic hit and Skylar trained at her kitchen counter, dancing in recorded and outdoor performances during the reduced season. Skylar joined Ballet Palm Beach in August 2021 as an apprentice and is now a company artist.
Two years ago, Melanie was surprised when Skylar inquired about teaching at BDS. “I just always thought she was on the performing track and teaching wasn’t on her radar,” she said.
Skylar, who now teaches ballet and pointe at BDS, agrees that teaching wasn’t initially part of her career plan. But she decided to “give back” what she was given, and loves seeing the younger dancers put in the effort that she did at that age. “I especially enjoy working with the 11- to 13-year-olds. They absorb information and apply corrections with so much focus and concentration,” she says.
For Melanie, Skylar is a home-grown success both onstage and off. “Her professional career, and ability to demonstrate at such a high level, inspires students,” she says. “It allows them to see first-hand the pay-off from hard work.”