Meet the nation's youngest pro ballerina: 16-year-old Marla Minadeo of Cleveland Ballet

As the country’s youngest professional ballerina, Marla Minadeo has a schedule that keeps her on her toes—literally.


Each day, Minadeo typically arrives at the Bedford Heights-based School of Cleveland Ballet around 9 a.m. to warm up and arrange her hair in the signature bun style to look the part as a newly minted member of the Cleveland Ballet. Dance class starts around 10 a.m., followed by company rehearsals from noon to 5 p.m. On Mondays and Wednesdays, Minadeo also teaches classes for tiny dancers after rehearsal. And then? Homework.


Marla MinadeoFor most 16-year-olds, it might be a heavy lift to join a professional ballet company full time at such a young age, but Minadeo has been living the dance life since she was a toddler. At the age of 2, Minadeo began studying dance at the School of Cleveland Ballet under the tutelage of her mother, Gladisa Guadalupe, longtime artistic director for the Cleveland Ballet.


I’ve mainly focused on ballet in my training, but I’ve also done modern and contemporary and character dance,” shares Minadeo. “I’ve studied almost every other type out there, but my No. 1 passion is ballet.”


Minadeo says she was first inspired to consider ballet as a career after getting hooked on Teen Vogue’s “Strictly Ballet” web series featuring the New York City-based School of American Ballet in 2014. “I wanted to be exactly like them,” says Minadeo, who resides in Pepper Pike with her family.


Minadeo got her wish in April, when she was offered a contract to join the Cleveland Ballet. Joining the company would mean leaving Andrews Osborne Academy (where she was studying as a sophomore) and taking up online schooling, but Minadeo knew it was a no-brainer.


“It’s been absolutely wild—all of my friends still live a normal life where they go to school, and then do homework or head off to soccer practice,” says Minadeo. “But at the end of the day, I know I made the right decision and I’m doing what I love most.”

Marla Minadeo and partnerMinadeo joins 21-year-old Kaela Ku of Japan and 18-year-old Lorenzo Pontiggia of Italy as new members, bringing the company to a total of 25 professional dancers and four artists-in-residence representing 10 countries.

According to Cleveland Ballet president Michael 
Krasnyansky, Minadeo is believed to be the youngest pro dancer in the country. That superlative just adds to an already big year for Cleveland Ballet, which is entering its fifth season and recently expanded its school training facilities in Bedford Heights.

In the future, Minadeo hopes to attend college and major in psychology, with the goal of parlaying that into becoming a dance therapist for kids with special needs. But for now, she’s going full force as the newest member of the Cleveland Ballet, having just appeared onstage in “Carmen” at Playhouse Square and now prepping for their production of “The Nutcracker” in December as part of the 2019-2020 season.


“Dancing at Playhouse Square is so cool and crazy, and it almost feels surreal,” says Minadeo. “When I go out on stage, I almost see nothing, but I know there are thousands of people watching. It’s inspiring to know all eyes are on me.”

Read more articles by Jen Jones Donatelli.

As an enthusiastic CLE-vangelist, Jen Jones Donatelli enjoys diving headfirst into her work with FreshWater Cleveland. Upon moving back to Cleveland after 16 years in Los Angeles, Jen served as FreshWater's managing editor for two years (2017-2019) and continues her work with the publication as a contributing editor and host of the FreshFaces podcast. Along with her work at FreshWater, she is the editor-of-chief of Edible Cleveland and a contributing editor for Destination Cleveland. When not typing the day away at her laptop, she teaches writing and creativity classes for Creative Groove, Literary Cleveland, Cleveland State University, and more. Jen is a proud graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.