Isabelle Nicandri is Dancing Her Way to the Top


Melissa McNair, Contributor

Isabelle Nicandri’s feet were permanently sore, covered in bruises, bandaids, and blisters. She slipped on her pink, slightly worn out ballet slippers while taking a couple of deep breaths in an attempt to calm her nerves. It was November of 2017, and over 500 people, mostly family and friends of the Just Dance Academy dancers, were just in front of the giant red curtain finding their seats and chattering amongst themselves. Behind the curtain hundreds of dancers were shuffling around, putting on costumes, perfecting makeup and hair, stretching, and practicing their routines. 

She was to play Clara, the main character who in the show falls asleep and dreams of a prince. A special holiday installment of “The Nutcracker” happened at the end of every November, and Nicandri had looked up to the older girls who took on the lead roles ever since she had started dancing. Now she was here, she had made it, and she knew that she had to put on the best performance of her life. Her hands were shaking with anxiety as she was haunted by past incidents where she had made mistakes on stage. 2 hours later, a tired yet exhilarated Nicandri bowed before hundreds of smiling and applauding audience members. She told Clara’s story through powerful leaps, turns, and steps and made everyone in the theatre proud. Now she had three more hours of numbers to perform alongside members from her other 10-plus classes and competition teams. 

One of the only things I remember from it is standing backstage and being super nervous about messing up and freaking out. The Clara role has three dances so that was a lot to learn but in the end performing it was the best feeling ever,” said Isabelle.

Isabelle Nicandri is now a sophomore attending SRHS and still taking over 10 classes at Just Dance Academy every semester. She is highly trained in ballet, jazz, and contemporary dance. According to her sister Olivia, “The teachers even made an age requirement because she was skilled enough to be dancing with the seniors in 7th grade.”

She began taking dance classes at the young age of 6 years old at JDA. She recalled her earliest memory of classes, “On my first day of class I remember meeting my now best friend Luca for the first time. We had a lot of fun back then and it’s cool to look back on how we have grown together.” 

To the average person, finding out that Nicandri and many of her friends spend up to 20 hours per week tirelessly practicing advanced leaps, turns, and flexibility tricks all before trying to memorize over 13 different numbers and run them perfectly may sound a little crazy. Many competitive dancers across the globe experience what is commonly referred to as dance burnout”, which is a state of consistent or unexplained tiredness, poor performance in spite of normal training, negative mood state and increased incident of illness or injury. Nicandri admitted that the wear and tear on her body has been one of the most difficult parts of her journey as a dancer. “It is hard,” she said about the risk of burnout. “I have taken up to 14 classes at one point and there are times where you just want to stop. The thing that has pulled me through those times when I’m feeling like that are my dance teachers Ms. Deanna, Ms. Alyssa, and Ms. Jenna. I can’t imagine doing dance without them.” 

Deanna Masgay began the Just Dance program in Marin county in 1993 and Jenna Jones began teaching classes after being taught by Ms. Deanna for 10 years. Ms. Deanna holds all of her students close to her heart but describes Nicandri as a talented, lovely lady and a natural turner. She recalled a short yet memorable story about Nicandri, “I suggested to her mom when she was 8 that she should do a solo the following year. She came in the next class and said, ‘Thank you for the solo, Ms. Deanna’ which was to happen a year from that moment…it was super cute.”

Although dance has played such an integral part in Nicandri’s life thus far, it is not the only interesting hobby she has. Her best friend Luca Bernardini, who is also a talented dancer and shares many duets and classes with Nicandri, said, “There isn’t anything she isn’t good at. She even knows how to sew and is super good at interior design!” 

As Nicandri sat in front of her camera screen for our remote interview, her room was noticeably organized and clean. She had a few plants, decorative throw pillows, and colorful wall decor above her bed. She shared with me that she has a passion for interior design and loves helping people decorate their own rooms. Along with her hobby of painting walls, she naturally has an eye for color coordination as well as piecing items together to really make a room feel like home. According to her, Bernardini and her actually like to collaborate a lot and bonded over their passions for interior design. 

Her mom, Alexandra Nicandri, noted that outside of dance, her daughter spends a lot of her free time playing golf and taking coding classes. 

Nicandri’s sister, Olivia, elaborated on her sibling’s obscure hobby: “She draws sketches of her ideas for renovating rooms and creates detailed powerpoints with every accessory labeled and picked out online.”

Ever since she was a young kid, the meticulous corrections and need for a great work ethic that dance classes placed on Nicandri caused her to be her own worst critic at times. She mentioned that she sees her perfectionism as a love for getting things done in the right way and enjoys seeing when her hard work has paid off. Her need for being the best she can be has also carried over into her schooling, as she has been a straight A student all her life.

Olivia Nicandri shared how her sister’s work ethic and perfectionism follows her from school and the dance studio. She said, “I think her exact focus originated from dance as she has to work to point her feet constantly, keep her legs straight and make sure that her arm is in just the right degree to make a turn look good. She is very meticulous with her foot placement and will redo parts of a dance routine over and over again until she gets it right. She stretches for about 45 minutes before her dance classes and then stretches some more once she is there.”

Although it is clear from her degree of talent and success that Nicandri could continue on to major in dance in college and turn her art into a career, she is still unsure whether or not she actually plans to do so. She shared, “I really enjoy dance and I think I would like to continue in some way such as a club or a dance team in college. I know a lot of people that have gone to colleges that are specifically for dance and I don’t know if that is something I am really interested in for myself, but I do think I am going to continue dancing in college and after.” 

People who do not know Nicandri past her somewhat shy front may not know that she is actually a very funny and caring person around those whom she is closer to. Olivia Nicandri shared, “She likes to randomly break out into song. They may not even be real songs, but at random points throughout the day she will just start singing.”

Luca Bernardini recalled, “A few years ago we went to a sea-turtle park in the Caribbean on a vacation. They had an event where you could swim with the turtles; however, the pond was so full of scum and algae that it was murky. We each thought the other one wanted to do it, so we got in. We were miserable! It turns out neither of us wanted to do it, but she did it because she thought I wanted to. That’s just the kind of friend she is.” 

Nicandri recalled the feeling of pure excitement and exhilaration she felt after performing as Clara in 2017. She said she feels that same way after all performances, and it is that feeling that keeps her going and pushing her way through dance even when injuries, burnout, or stage fright tries to get in the way. Under her soft-spoken and resilient exterior lies a hardworking and bright girl who may achieve an abundance of success throughout her lifetime. Nicandri’s story as a dancer and a person proves that the root of success lies in the mindset of a person and how hard they are willing to push themselves in order to achieve their goals.