Junior Aspen Hanzak trades pointe shoes for pom poms


Photo courtesy of: Stacey Hanzak

Junior Aspen Hanzak performs an arabesque in the Cleveland Metroparks the summer before eighth grade year.

After devoting 13 years of her life to dance, and up to seven days a week at times, junior Aspen Hanzak transitioned from training to be a prima ballerina with the Cleveland Ballet, to high school cheerleading, in hopes of having a more “normal” high school experience. 

“I loved dance, but it was time to quit,” Hanzak said. 

Before her dance career ended, Hanzak was practicing every day after school, five days a week. 

When preparing for  performances, she could be rehearsing every day of the week.

“After every one of these practices, getting my school work done was my top priority,” she recalled. “I would never make it to bed before 11. This brought me a lot of stress, yet I was still able to maintain good grades and healthy relationships, even though I would rarely get to see my friends…Altogether, dance did make school a lot harder for me, yet it also instilled a great work ethic that still helps me throughout my academics today.”

Hanzak took the summer between her freshman and sophomore year off of dance to give herself some time to think it over. 

“I had not had a summer off without an eight-week intensive for three years,” Hanzak explained. “My teacher didn’t like this, and so she took the scholarship that made it affordable for me to go to her school. That was really the end of the line for me.”

She said she ultimately left dance for the sake of her mental and physical health.

“Dancers are stereotypically meant to be skinny, and that was starting to get to me and as I got older,” Hanzak said. “I started to recognize the social life I lost. I never really got to live out my childhood and be involved in my school, and that was something I wanted to do before it was too late.” 

Hanzak started dancing when she was 3 years old. She explained that she has an ideal ballet body, perfect for flexibility and leaps, but difficult to do turns.

Nailing routines and receiving compliments from her teacher made Hanzak feel amazing, she said. 

“I absolutely loved being on the stage. I felt very accomplished when I would stand there and look at the rest of the theater during rehearsals. Of course before performances, I would get very nervous but that all went away after I stepped on the stage.”

Hanzak never got to achieve all of her goals because everything ended so suddenly. It would have taken her at least 10 years to achieve everything she wanted to, she said. There were still places she wanted to dance, roles she wanted to play, skills and moves she wanted to improve on and learn. 

Instead, leaving dance enabled Hanzak to have more of a social life. She never really got to hang out with her friends before, when she was so busy training and performing.

“I was really my own person,” she said. “I depended on myself to be my own therapist.” 

The end of her dance career was the start of her cheerleading, further involvement in school and more connection with friends here.

Hanzak is on the Varsity Basketball Cheer team.

Cheerleading required converting her “graceful ballet motions and turning them into sharper cheer motions,” she explained. The sport definitely came easier to her as a dancer, Hanzak said. She did have to learn to use her voice more, which she said was awkward at first, but now she is used to it. 

Jackie Ogden said it was great coaching Hanzak, who caught over very fast. Hanzak stood out to her because she was a kind person and was always helping others. 

She said she knew that Hanzak would make a good cheerleader from the start. 

“Aspen is very polite and respectful,” Ogden added. “I also love that she is such a hard worker.”

Sophomore cheerleader Karly Reger said Hanzak is very kind-hearted. Reger goes to Hanzak for almost everything and they have become very close friends, she added.

Junior Sydney Grishaber said Hanzak was very shy when she first met her, but now she is not shy at all. 

Grishaber had previously been the only cheerleader in her grade before Hanzak got involved. 

Cheering has brought the two closer together and Grishaber said it was fun watching Hanzak improve over the year.

Sophomore Jessica Reece said Hanzak is a great role model, always willing to help, whether it is giving Reece a ride to cheer practice or a small question on her homework. 

“Aspen is also inspiring,” Reece added. “She tried out for the team this past year, with no previous experience cheering, and made Varsity!”