The velvet curtains rustle as the dancers rush to rehearse their routines, perfect their appearance, and mentally prepare for the adrenaline of the stage.
It’s the annual San Francisco Ballet Nutcracker performance.
Interrupting the meticulously jeweled tutus and pink tights that line the walls of the dressing rooms sits a pair of black leggings and a small white jacket.
That costume belongs to Sam Stampleman, one of the youngest professional male ballet dancers in the Bay Area.
Stampleman has pursued dance within the Belmont community for over ten years and now, at age 14, focuses on further expanding his dance abilities and turning his passion into a career.
“I began dancing when I was about four years old when my parents enrolled me in a few Irish dancing classes for fun. Little did I know, from that point on, dance would become a constant in my life and develop into a passion I never knew I had,” Stampleman said.
After a couple of years of Irish dancing, he transitioned to a local Belmont dance studio known as HeartBeat Dance Academy where he switched his focus to a variety of different dance styles, such as lyrical, jazz, hip-hop, tap, acrobatics, and most importantly, ballet.
Natalie Silfvast, one of Stampleman’s former dance teammates, said, “I will never forget the first day I saw Sam dance at HeartBeat; the way he executes his movement is breathtaking. Sam brings such positive energy into the dance studio and he is such a well-rounded dancer. I always knew he was going to go far in the world of dance.”
Stampleman accepted an offer to be one of the original members of HeartBeat Dance Academy’s competition team, where he competed in multiple group routines and solos that have been awarded regionally and nationally.
“Joining HeartBeat Dance was one of the most pivotal moments in my dance experience as it opened my eyes to the possibility of boys being able to participate in different styles of dance, as well as my overall passion for dance,” Stampleman said. “I was the only boy on the competition team and in all of my dance classes which was an extremely valuable experience that molded me into the confident dancer I am today.”
After almost seven years at HeartBeat Dance, Stampleman discovered his love for the style of ballet and decided to switch to Bravissimo Dance Studio, a studio that places a larger emphasis on male ballet training.
After participating in an abundance of Bravissimo ballet showcases and competitions, Stampleman was invited to an exclusive summer dance intensive for the San Francisco Ballet where he was then offered an official professional position at their San Francisco studio. He initially declined the offer due to scheduling conflicts, however, the company was so interested in him that they convinced him to accept through an abundance of dance accommodations.
“Being able to be trained by such a prestigious company like the San Francisco Ballet has been the most surreal experience in my life so far. My technique has improved tremendously and I have finally been able to focus on a potential ballet career at a young age,” Stampleman said. “I went from this quiet little boy who took dance lessons for fun to the unapologetic ballet dancer I am today.”
Throughout his professional ballet training, Stampleman has won an extensive array of regional and national awards and titles within the dance community. Some of his greatest achievements include placing in the Top 12 Youth American Grand Prix ballet competition in 2016 and winning full scholarships to the annual professional Houston Ballet dance intensives where he dances at Level 7, the elite dance division.
Along with his magnitude of awards, Stampleman has also gained the opportunity to perform in the San Francisco Ballet’s infamous annual Nutcracker performances where he is one of the youngest ballet cast members.
“As a kid, my family would always take me to see the Nutcracker every year and being allowed to perform in the show has been beyond surreal. Being able to train with such hardworking and driven performers makes me a better dancer and person every day and I would never trade that,” Stampleman said. “The atmosphere of the cast is one of my favorite aspects of the Nutcracker show as everyone is bonded through their love of ballet, no matter what gender or background, and I find that remarkable.”
The San Francisco Ballet has offered Stampleman a positive and supportive environment where he can embrace his ballet talents free of judgment and focus on developing his professional career at a young age.
Jordan Dooley, one of Stampleman’s former dance teammates, said, “I had the privilege of dancing with Sam for a few years at HeartBeat Dance Academy and it is truly inspiring to see him thriving in the world of professional ballet. He is such a dedicated dancer and would always make me a better dancer whenever we competed together. Ballet has always been Sam’s calling and I am beyond happy that he is turning that passion into a career at such a young age.”
Along with furthering his ballet career, Stampleman strives to spread a positive influence to those who face adversity within the dance community, especially boys in ballet who may feel isolated by societal stigma.
“The main piece of advice I would give to anyone who feels excluded from a community, whether it be dance or another group, is to focus on your personal goals rather than waste time attempting to please everyone else. Once I realized that my passion for ballet is individual to me, I stopped caring what anyone else thinks,” Stampleman said. “I have been in and out of intensive ballet programs where I have constantly been told that I will never be good enough, and that criticism is what lit a fire under me to keep going and to keep achieving my goals no matter what.”
As of today, Stampleman continues to pursue his ballet profession through his San Francisco Ballet training and is currently awaiting the annual Nutcracker auditions in the hopes of being cast again.
“Overall, dance has been the one steady constant throughout my entire life and I do not know where I would be without it,” Stampleman said. “Dance has helped me grow into the ambitious person I am today and I cannot wait to continue to keep growing and learning throughout my future dance experiences.”