Samantha Dunster with daughter Audrey//Photo by Tessa Marie Images
Media’s Samantha Dunster leads by example//Photo by Tessa Marie Images
What she lacked in perceived perfection she made up for in her overwhelming desire to do whatever it took to become a professional dancer. “I had a ballet teacher who told me early on, ‘If you want to do this, it takes hard work and sacrifice for anyone—but, for you, it’s going to be 10 times that,’” she says.
Dunster took that advice as a challenge and was determined to prove she could do it.
The summer before her senior year of high school, she was invited to train for a month at the prestigious National Ballet of Cuba. She convinced her parents tolet her go. A monthlong visit turned into an eight-year stay, and she finished high school remotely. “The training was something I really connected with,” she says. “I met a retired Olympic gymnastics coach who worked with me and really helped me overcome some of my challenges.”
Moving to Cuba didn’t fit Dunster’s reserved personality. “I was a homebody,” she says. “But I did it for the love of my art.”
The move had a profound influence on Dunster’s career for decades to come. One of her instructors, Laura Alonso, pulled her aside and encouraged her to consider learning the “other side of the business.” At first, the idea didn’t thrill her, but after some thought, she decided to go for it. “Thank God I said OK, because not many people get the chance to be taught how to coach and to do really efficient scheduling and to work with the corps de ballet,” says Dunster.
Everything Dunster learned in Cuba she applies to her daily responsibilities at the Pennsylvania Ballet. “Sam is not only an incredible teacher and coach, but also an incredible leader,” says Angel Corella, the artistic director who recruited Dunster. “It would be really hard to imagine the company without her.”
Dunster’s current position allows her to still work daily in studio with dancers, which is extremely important to her. “Someone once asked me what the difference is when you work with a student, opposed to a professional, and there really is no difference,” she says. “You’re still teaching and inspiring.”
A full-time pro and part of the corps de ballet, Kathryn Manger is one of more than 35 dancers Dunster currently works with. They first met when Manger was a student at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School of Dance.
“She was always so good at nurturing not just my strengths, but giving me roles that she knew weren’t my strong suits,” says Manger. “It’s so crucial to have a person like Samantha when you’re training because, as an artist, you’re always trying to grow. You need your instructors to be honest and tell you your flaws, but you also need them to be encouraging. Samantha has all of those attributes.”