Until now most local followers of dance, myself included, have only read or heard about Bakersfield native Tiler Peck's rapid rise to fame as a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet.
I'm happy to report that on Tuesday evening, we -- along with several million other viewers -- will have the opportunity to see the 20-year-old ballerina in action on the hit TV show, "Dancing with the Stars."
Peck and her dance partner, Danny Tidwell, are not competitors on the show. They appear, along with an ensemble of 12 dancers, in the entertainment portion.
I was able to speak with Peck a few days ago on her cell phone as she walked down a busy New York street.
It was after 7 p.m. Eastern time and she had just finished three hours of rehearsal for an upcoming role. I heard sirens blaring in the background and offered to call her later at home, but she was ready to talk right then and there.
"It's all right," she assured me. "My apartment is only two blocks away from the Lincoln Center -- that's where the (ballet) company is based and that's where we rehearse."
Although most of her roles with the company are done in the classical style, the number she'll do on "Dancing with the Stars" is contemporary and so is her costume.
"I'll be wearing a tutu that's made of some kind of micro-optic fabric that has little dots that light up," Peck said. "It was made by the same costumer who designs for Lady Gaga."
The choreographer is Travis Wall, a friend of Peck's since she was 11, when both appeared on Broadway in "The Music Man." She played Gracie Shinn, the mayor's daughter in the musical classic, and Wall, then age 13, was a member of the ensemble. Three years ago he was a runner-up in the second season of "So You Think You Can Dance."
She described the piece Wall created for the Tuesday "Stars" show as "very complex," with hip-hop, break dancing and all kinds of things going on.
"I just hope I can represent the company well," she said.
Peck continues to focus on her classical training. In February she danced the solo part of Aurora in "Sleeping Beauty." A reviewer for Dance Magazine said of her performance: "She was so dazzling -- but in no way flashy -- that I felt she is bound to become an international star. Stay tuned."
Among those in the audience were her parents, Georgia and Stephen Peck, and her grandmother, Princess Bookout, all of whom live in Bakersfield.
Peck has been studying ballet for 15 years, starting in Bakersfield at age 5 and continuing with professionals in Los Angeles. She was only 12 when she first went to New York as a student in the School of American Ballet. Being thousands of miles from home was difficult at first but she's adjusted to living in a big city.
"The older I get the more I like it," she said. "I was really young when I first came and it wasn't that easy to go out and explore things on your own. Now I have a boyfriend and a dog and we go walking a lot downtown in our spare time."
My guess is the spare time is pretty limited. In addition to practicing five days a week, Peck is taking a night class at Fordham University. Two subjects she's interested in: business and journalism.
"I'll always dance, of course," she explained, "but I might want to have my own studio some day, so I figure the business will come in handy. And I love to write, so I might major in journalism."
Her first teacher was her mother, who has taught dance at Bakersfield High School for 36 years. Peck gratefully acknowledges her mother's influence and her wisdom.
"My mom taught me everything. At first, I only wanted to do jazz but she insisted on me learning the ballet techniques, said I needed that foundation before I went on to do other things. And she was right."