Dancers prepare vigorously for performances like The Nutcracker, which is playing in the VPAC this weekend.  11-year-old Raani Clayton, who will be performing as the youngest member of The Sarasota Cuban Ballet School’s pre-professional program, goes to school online through The Connections Academy so she has the flexibility to dance up to six hours a day.

I got to watch Raani and talk to her mother, Tiye, about her experience as a young dancer last week while Raani had her weekly session with Elizabeth Holland, a Master Trainer in Gyrotoni and manager of a Venice Ave Gyrotonic studio, Suncoast Center for Movement.

Raani and Tiye moved here last summer from Denver, Colorado so that Raani could train with The Sarasota Cuban Ballet School (SCBS).  “She’s grown so much since we came here,” Tiye said, “she’s a different person and a different dancer.”

Tiye and Raani were drawn to The Sarasota Cuban Ballet School (SCBS) because of their emphasis on strength and grace in dance.  Injuries are common in dancers and Tiye puts emphasis on keeping Raani safe. She likes that this is important to the professionals at the SCBS as well.

Raani Clayton, age 11, is the youngest dancer in The Sarasota Cuban Ballet School’s pre-professional program

Elizabeth Holland, Gyrotonic Master Trainer, helps Raani stretch during her weekly training session.

This is also a strength of Gyrotonic, which uses circular movements to help anyone who wants to improve their strength and range of motion, without putting a strain on their joints. Back in Colorado, Tiye used to practice Gyrotonic herself, and with Raani dancing so many hours a day, she thought a weekly session with Elizabeth to continue to help improve Raani’s strength and flexibility was important.  “I don’t want to break my baby,” Tiye says.

While in the studio, Raani used different machines that helped her practice many of the same moves she would do in ballet class, with the addition of about 25 lbs of weight on each leg. This allows Raani to gain muscle without bulking, which as a dancer you don’t want to do.  “When I do the same movements in class it’s easier because I don’t have the weights anymore,” Raani said.

Elizabeth spots Raani on a Gyrotonic machine that helps stretch and strengthen Raani’s muscles at the same time.

Raani practices jumping with the added weight and assistance of a Gyrotonic machine.

Having the time to work with Elizabeth one-on-one also helps Raani make sure she is aligning her muscles correctly when she dances.  One of the machines used during the session had Raani laying on her back at a slight incline, with a platform at her feet.

This lets Raani practice jumping without the pull of gravity, and helps her stand in proper form while focusing on each muscle. “Gyro isolates my muscles more,” she said.

Raani enjoys a good stretch near the end of her training session.

The whole group was buzzing about The Nutcracker this weekend.  “To perform with an orchestra is incredible,” Tiye said.  Elizabeth was beaming as she talked about getting to see Raani dance, she loves helping her become the best, and healthiest, dancer she can be.  They all agreed how incredible the world-class instructors and choreographers at The Sarasota Cuban Ballet School are, and they can’t wait to see how Raani continues to grow in their tutilage.

You can follow Raani’s journey through her Instagram- raani_lifeonpointe or click here to visit her website.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Gyrotonic could help you click here, or contact Elizabeth directly at or 941.879.8657.

Click here to purchase tickets to The Sarasota Cuban Ballet School’s The Nutcracker, featuring The Venice Symphony, this weekend at The Venice Performing Arts Center, or contact our box office at 941.218.3779.