Kayla Rowser performs the lead role of Aurora in the Nashville Ballet production of "Sleeping Beauty."
CONYERS -- As a young girl growing up in Conyers, Kayla Rowser was a faithful subscriber to Dance Magazine and she particularly enjoyed reading the January issue, when the New York-based publication unleashed "25 to Watch," a collection of profiles on up-and-coming dancers.
Now 24 years old and a company dancer with the Nashville (Tenn.) Ballet, Rowser this January found herself included in the magazine's annual window into the future of dance. She admitted she was surprised to learn she'd been nominated and selected.
"When our artistic director and our PR director called me in to tell me that I'd been selected, I was absolutely floored," said Rowser by phone on a rare day off in Music City. "It was almost like I didn't realize what they were telling me. I grew up getting Dance Magazine in the mail and flipping through every January to see who they were listing as the top 25 to watch.
"When they told me I'd been nominated and chosen for it, it seemed so surreal ... It just seemed so far off from anything that I could have imagined. It was an exciting moment for me to be recognized nationally, and it makes me want to keep pushing even more."
Suffice it to say, Rowser is getting glowing reviews.
"Kayla Rowser is one of those rare dancers who manages to balance artistry and athleticism," wrote the magazine's Amy Stumpfl. "Petite but powerful, she ripples across the stage like a feathery breeze, only to explode in an impossibly expansive leap. And through it all, she engages her audience with a face that is innately serene and expressive."
"Kayla is just on the verge of discovering her artist within," added Paul Vasterling, the Nashville Ballet's artistic director. "She has the perfect proportions and lines of a classical dancer. She has the body and the talent, and is developing it to become a very important part of our company."
The 2006 graduate of Salem High has scarcely had time to let the honor sink in as she's carrying a heavy load of responsibilities, dancing full time with the company (which at present includes rehearsals for two different productions) and teaching classes in the evenings. She's also taking online courses from Nashville State Community College in pursuit of a communications degree.
"It's a busy lifestyle," she said.
The daughter of Vern and Jeffrey Rowser took her first ballet class at the age of 4 and in a matter of years began intensive training at Magdalena Maury School of Classical Ballet in Fayetteville. She also played clarinet in the symphonic band (her father spent a decade as Salem's band director) and had membership in several public-service groups.
Although she's adamant about earning a college degree ("It's something I've always wanted," she said), Rowser said when her high school days ended, she wanted full immersion in ballet as an art and an industry, so she hoped her parents would understand her desire not to take the traditional college route.
Rowser's mother Vern -- whose interest in the arts includes directing Salem's color guard and dance team and working at several dance studios -- joked in an email that her daughter is a "testament to how you should listen to your kids," agreeing with her that she had the gifts and the ethic to eschew the university scene, heading directly to a real-world industry.
"I've got a very supportive family," the 5-foot-2 Rowser said. "Some people couldn't understand why I wanted to defer college and try for a professional career in ballet. I can't thank my parents enough -- they're a big part of why I've been as successful as I have been. I had a foundation at home that let me know I could do this."
Soon finding herself in the employ of the Charleston (S.C.) Ballet, Rowser spent a season there and then moved to Nashville, where she spent two years as a trainee with Nashville Ballet 2, which included performances in Vasterling's "Carmina Burana" and "Nashville's Nutcracker," as well as Balanchine's "Four Temperaments."
"Nashville Ballet 2 is like the feeder program," Rowser said. "You have the opportunity to take classes and begin working your way up to the place where every dancer aspires to be."
Rowser joined the main company in 2009 as an apprentice and a year later was elevated to company member. Since that time, she snagged the title role in "Firebird" and "Sleeping Beauty," and has also danced in "Nashville's Nutcracker" (as the Sugar Plum Fairy), "Swan Lake," "Carmina Burana," "Afternoon of a Faun," "Cryin' Out" and "Postcards from the Boys."
She is now preparing for a role in "Romeo and Juliet" and will join the company on the road, performing "Carmen Burana" in St. Louis.
Although her career is just getting off the ground, Rowser -- who also has two sisters, Hilary, a sophomore at Kennesaw State, and Carmen, 12, a dancer and seventh-grader at Davis Middle School -- said she can envision the time when she no longer dances ("Your body will quit before your heart will," she said), although she knows the arts will always be part of her life.
"You never know what the future holds," she said. "I'm so passionate about dancing and I hope one day to find something else I'm as passionate about."