From New Jersey with love: Ballet Mom

Like most ballet mothers, Jane Drehetz spent most of her ballet-mad child's early years doing a lot of driving, taking her son to classes, performances and competitions.

But unlike the vast majority of ballet parents, she has seen her child make the leap from school to professional dancer. With that success, Jonathan Porretta's mother had to change her commute from driving to flying.

"I'm here nine times a year," said the New Jersey native. "It's six hours on that plane, but I've got it down pat. I get up early and do everything I have to do, so once I get on that plane I sleep as much as I can."

Although she still resides in the Garden State, Drehetz knows Queen Anne Hill and its resident ballet company as well as anyone in the neighborhood. Her 24-year-old son is one of Pacific Northwest Ballet's rising stars, recently promoted to principal dancer (the highest designation possible for a dancer at PNB). She has been attending as many performances as she can since Porretta joined PNB in 1999.

Drehetz did not know much about the ballet before she took her three children to a performance of "Nutcracker." Porretta was 3 years old, she recalled, and the performance ran a little long for him.

"I looked at him, and he had fallen asleep at the end. But after that day, he would walk around the house saying 'I'm going to be a dancer!' When he was 7 he was still saying it," she said.

Deciding that he might as well try dance, Drehetz enrolled her 7-year-old in a small school in New Jersey. "He just loved it," she recalled. "He took a combo class of jazz, tap and ballet - but he loved the ballet best. From that time on, it just consumed him. Me, knowing nothing about ballet, I just went along with it."

In the early years, Drehetz regarded Porretta's ballet obsession as similar to his older brother's devotion to sports: something that the kid enjoyed doing, so it was worth her time to drive him to classes and competitions. When her daughter decided to drop out of dance school after a year, Drehetz told her, "Don't worry about it. If it is not your thing, it's not your thing."

One thing that Drehetz emphasized was that she never wanted to push her children into anything that they didn't want to do. "I've seen kids who don't want to do ballet and the parents want them to. I knew one girl who was really strung out and miserable, but her mother kept saying, 'You have to do this, look at all the money I've invested.' She eventually left ballet.

"I think, whatever your kids want to do, support it 100 percent, but if they don't want to do it, remember it's their life. Just support them in whatever they want to do."

Divorced "and pretty much a single mom" during those early years, Drehetz worked as a nurse in a doctor's office and started a landscaping business because those jobs gave her the flexibility to attend her children's after-school activities. "My second husband and I dated for 13 years because my kids came first. But he loved going to all the competitions," she said. "At Jon's dance competitions, he'd bring candy for all the kids."

Although her two older children participated in a variety of after- school activities, Drehetz realized that her youngest was not going to grow out of his devotion to dance.

When he reached his teens, Porretta decided to try out for the School of American Ballet in New York, long regarded as the premier school in the country. "He earned full scholarship," she said.

While Drehetz felt early on that Porretta's talent and passion for ballet could make a career in dance possible, "my oldest son used to tell Jon that he shouldn't focus on dancing and he should think about college, because you can't make a living from dancing. Now, we laugh about that advice."

Drehetz told Porretta to pursue his dream and was thrilled when he was offered a place at PNB after he finished school - even if it was a six-hour flight away from home. "I never held him back," she said, "and we still talk every day on the phone. We just chitchat. And I've learned so much about ballet from him."

Starting with Poretta's first year in Seattle, Drehetz made a point of coming to the performances, earning many frequent-flyer miles along the way. "I feel that life is so short. I don't want to miss anything," she said.

Drehetz's knowledge of dance is better than it was when she attended that first "Nutcracker," but it has not made her a super critic of Porretta's style: "I love everything that he does - I'm his mother!" This season, she admitted that her two favorite performances were "Prodigal Son" and "Rite of Spring."

"For 'Rite of Spring,' I went to all the performances for both weeks," she said. "It was just edge-of-my-seat incredible." The dance critics agreed with her, singling out Porretta's performance as exceptional in this notoriously difficult piece.

The regular trips to Seattle have made Drehetz and her husband consider an eventual move to this area, especially since they both love to garden. "When we were here in February, we were excited because there was so much snow at home, and here there were flowers blooming!"

When she's here in the spring, Drehetz likes to visit the tulip fields in the Skagit Valley, and she takes the other members of her family out to see the countryside whenever she can. If her family isn't with her, as was the case in a recent trip for the "American Choreographers" program, she'll ask one of the other "moms" visiting the PNB to come with her. She has become close friends with Jordan Pacitti's mother, whose son attended SAB at the same time as Jonathan. "We call each other on the phone, and commiserate together," she said.

Whether she's touring La Conner, checking out the tulips or just shopping at the Safeway to stock up Porretta's refrigerator, Drehetz admitted that she does a little public relations work for her favorite ballet company.

"I like to talk," she said. "And, of course, I tell everyone that my son is with the Pacific Northwest Ballet. I promote the ballet all the time. I say, 'Be sure to go! You can see Jonathan and say that you've met his mom!'"[[In-content Ad]]