Ian Tanzer was 5 years old when he figured out what he wanted to do with his life.
His grandmother had taken him to see a touring production of "The Nutcracker" and he told her, "I want to do that!"
After he got home, Tanzer enlisted his 9-year-old brother to help him look up ballet schools in the phone book.
"We called the first ballet school we found," Tanzer said. "And when they answered we said, 'Here.' " And he handed the phone to his mother.
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That was 16 years ago. Tanzer's now in his first season as a dancer with the Sarasota Ballet.
He dances locally, but he's known all over the country. He's one of the young dancers featured in the second season of "Breaking Pointe," which airs Monday nights on The CW.
The show details the lives and careers of dancers with Ballet West, a Salt Lake City-based company, as they prepare for a production of "Cinderella." Tanzer was a member of Ballet West 2, the training company for Ballet West.
Being a cast member on a national TV show would be the lifetime dream for a lot of people. Tanzer's matter-of-fact about it.
"I did it," he said, "because I thought I had an interesting story to tell."
The story is that he grew up not in an arts-rich metropolis but in Cheney, Wash., a farming town outside of Spokane. His dad is a prison guard.
But his parents encouraged their kids to follow their passions. Ian's a dancer, his older brother is in the music business, his 14-year-old brother buys and sells motorcycles and "makes more money than anyone else in the family," Tanzer said.
His farming friends were just as supportive of his ballet dream.
"They'd call me up and say, 'Hey, I was going to ask you if you wanted to come over and bale hay, but I know you have class, so come
over after that,'" he said.
He did the usual stuff a teenage boy does -- baseball, soccer, all that -- but eventually the other activities fell by the wayside and ballet became his life.
It's not been an easy life. Ballet dancers are very busy but often don't make much money, and there are thousands of dancers vying for a handful of jobs. When Tanzer had some spare time, he looked at which companies were holding auditions, then pick the ones he had the best shot at getting into, and which auditions he could afford airfare to get to.
His role on "Breaking Pointe" only lasted one season, and there are only a few episodes left. A lot of Bradenton-area viewers didn't get to see much of this season because Bright House wasn't carrying the CW for several weeks, but all the episodes are available on Hulu. (The show also featured Tanzer's girlfriend, Allyson Hanson, a non-dancer who's now here in Sarasota with him.)
Even while he was with Ballet West and taping the TV show, Tanzer's dream was to dance for the Sarasota Ballet. He was always working when the Sarasota Ballet was holding auditions, but then just by chance, Sarasota ballet artistic director Iain Webb came and saw a Ballet West performance and recruited Tanzer.
"I've had my eye on this company since I was 15," Tanzer said. "The best thing about doing the show was that it got me here. This company's one the verge of becoming something really amazing. You can feel it."
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.