Aug. 31, 2004
In some ways Steven Melendez’s life resembles the fairy tales he performs on stage.
As a principal dancer with the New York Theatre Ballet, Melendez stars in more than 100 performances a year, from Cinderella to Alice in Wonderland.
At 17, he has come a long way from the young boy who was once homeless.
“It was just an unfortunate situation,” Melendez said on ABC News’ Good Morning America. “It wasn’t drugs or abuse or anything bad like that.”
The Boy Who Wouldn’t Leave
Melendez was just 8 years old and living in a shelter with his mom and young sister when he heard of Lift, the New York Theatre Ballet’s outreach program.
Diana Byer, artistic director for the New York Theatre Ballet, says she never expected how much Melendez’s life would change when he first joined.
“Steven was part of a program where we would bus the kids to school, we would give them a hot breakfast, an English and literature class and ballet for an hour and a half. He came every day. He was very quiet, very kind of inside,” she said.
Although he never missed a class, Byer had no idea how much the sessions meant to the boy.
“I didn’t really notice him,” Byer said. “When I offered the scholarships, he was not one of the children that I initially offered a scholarship to, and, you know, to me it looked like he wasn’t quite trying,” she said. “He was always kind of looking down … he took part, but didn’t stand out in any way.”
But on the last day of Melendez’s program, he did something no child had ever done in class before. He grabbed on to his teacher’s legs and refused to go.
“So, to get him to leave, I offered him a full scholarship,” Byer said.
Melendez said he had learned to love dancing during the program, even though he hadn’t expressed it to others.
“I found myself enjoying it,” he said. “I mean not, not the putting on the tights, but I enjoyed dancing.”
Melendez says he knows that he was fortunate to find such an outlet. These days, when he’s not practicing, he’s visiting young kids in his old neighborhood in the New York City borough of the Bronx.
Today Melendez feels as if he’s come full circle. Just a decade after he found a glimmer of hope on stage, he’ll play the role of the prince in The Nutcracker.
“I can’t really even think about what I would be doing now if I wasn’t dancing,” he said.
For more information about the New York Ballet Theater, go to www.nytb.org.
ABC News’ Raina Gittlin produced this story for Good Morning America.