Isaac Stappas' ballet career had a bit of a contentious start.
He was 8 years old and in the car with his mom and sister, on the way to her ballet lesson.
Halfway there, his mother informed him that she wanted him to audition to dance at his sister's school.
"I threw a fit and everything," Stappas said. "She said, 'Do it for me. If you don't like it, you never have to go back.' "
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He liked it.
Today, 21 years later, Stappas is a professional dancer with a spot in New York City's prestigious American Ballet Theatre.
He'll dance the role of the Cavalier in Ballet Wichita's "Nutcracker" opposite his wife, Kristi Boone, also an American Ballet Theatre dancer.
After years of after-school classes, Stappas enrolled in the North Carolina School for the Arts, where he studied for nine years.
He moved to New York City to pursue dance when he was 17 and landed his job with American Ballet Theatre in 1998. Since then he has danced countless roles with the company of 80 dancers, including Tybalt in "Romeo and Juliet," Hilarion in "Giselle" and Von Rothbart in "Swan Lake."
Like many ballet company dancers, Stappas takes advantages of weekends off to accept jobs dancing in performances across the country.
A friend from the company first invited him to perform in Ballet Wichita's "Nutcracker" two years ago, and it was his first exposure to Kansas.
"Everyone was very professional and a pleasure to work with," he said. "That's one of the reasons I decided to come back. It was a great environment."
The role of the Cavalier in "The Nutcracker" is one Stappas says he loves and has danced "hundreds of times" during his career.
He particularly loves dancing the role opposite his wife, he said.
"We've done it since we've been together, so we know what we need to do for each other to get the performance we want," he said.
All these years later, Stappas says he and his mother still joke about that fateful car ride.
"I tease her more about conning me," he said. "But I think it was a good move on her part to expose me to as much as possible."