Caroline Chanfrau, of Ormond Beach, will star as the sugar plum fairy in the upcoming production of "The Nutcracker" by the European School of Performing Arts.
Caroline Chanfrau is meticulous with her weekly schedule.
She has to be. The 17-year-old dancer with the European School of Performing Arts in Ormond Beach rarely has a moment to spare throughout the week. She dances five nights a week, plus all-day Saturday at the school, on top of being student body president at Father Lopez Catholic High School and completing all of her regular school work in a way that has her on track to graduating at the top of her class.
And next week at the Peabody Auditorium, the Ormond Beach resident will star as the sugar plum fairy in the European School's production of "The Nutcracker."
“Being able to have a part like this is really special because it’s challenging me in a lot of ways," Chanfrau said. "I haven’t really danced like this before. I’ve done partnering and I’ve done solo work, but having to do back to back to back nonstop stuff, is definitely a challenge, but it’s really fun.”
Chanfrau has been dancing with the European School since she was 2 years old. Her older sister danced at the school first, and Chanfrau recalls watching her and wanting to follow in her footsteps.
And she did.
Now, 15 years later, her chapter with the European School is coming to a close as she experiences her last year. Despite Chanfrau's intense schedule, she is still one of the best dancers in the studio, said Michelle Boutros, artistic director at the European School.
“She loves what she does and you could see that even from how she walks into the studio," Boutros said. "… It’s like home for her.”
Born to be a leader
Dancing has always been an integral part of Chanfrau's life — a creative outlet that gives her an escape. It's therapeutic, she said. When she's dancing, she doesn't have to worry about her other responsibilities.
“Having to be here six days a week really makes me try and manage my time other places and makes me really focus on what I want," she said. "It’s a really big commitment so I have to be sure it’s something I like doing.”
But once Chanfrau decides she wants to do something, she commits. She joined the swim team in her sophomore year, and each fall since, she's had practice straight after school before coming to the dance studio for a few more hours of hard work. Though swimming is not her favorite activity, she still gave it her maximum effort. This fall, she was captain of her swim team.
“Education has always been really important in my family, and I’m very fortunate to go to a school like Father Lopez, so it’s very important to me to take advantage of everything that’s around me," Chanfrau said.
She's always been like this, said Boutros. Though she recently became the artistic director for the European School, Boutros taught at the studio three years ago, and Chanfrau's work ethic has remained steady.
“She was born to be a leader, and so I’m not surprised at her progress, and in a way it’s almost an expectation for her," Boutros said. "She puts it on herself, and she meets it.”
Chanfrau takes dance seriously, her director continued, and goes out of her way to help others in and out of the studio. A few years ago, Chanfrau and a friend began volunteering her time to teach a monthly dance class at Hope Place, a homeless shelter for families in Daytona Beach. It's an experience Chanfrau said gave her a new appreciation for dance.
"Whenever I would go in there, it broke my heart," Chanfrau said. "They would be so excited about learning the simplest things that I’ve been doing since I was 2 years old. It made realize how privileged I am to be here and be able to do this every day.”
Boutros has been teaching for 25 years, and Chanfrau has never failed to impress her.
“To see someone reach the pinnacle of their art form, and still be humble, is so refreshing," Boutros said. "Now, has Caroline reached her pinnacle? No, not yet of course. She’s only 17 years old, but always humble. She’s always kind.”
Ballerina for life
Chanfrau attended a summer intensive for ballet in New York City. There were only 21 girls, and many were from top ballet schools or had played lead roles, like Clara in "The Nutcracker," for the New York City Ballet's production.
“And then I was me, from Ormond Beach," Chanfrau said. "It was definitely a very big learning experience, but I think that I kind of realized that I loved ballet in a very different way than they did. It wasn’t my whole life, but it was a specific joy that I had.”
Once in college, Chanfrau doesn't know yet if dance is the professional path she will take. She's looking forward to exploring her options and taking all sorts of different classes to find what she likes. A daughter of two local lawyers, she has a feeling she may follow in their footsteps. But dance will continue to be a part of her life.
She's appreciative of having been able to grow up in the European School. Sometimes, it may not have felt that way, especially when the frustration of not getting a step sets in, but Chanfrau said dancers need to look at the "bigger picture."
“I feel like every little girl wants to be a ballerina, and so I think that everyone needs to remember that desire that they had when they were little, or their dream, and not focus on all the setbacks," Chanfrau said. "Just remember why they love it all the time.”