Robbinsville resident Jonathan Ronen is a shy 8-year-old in everyday life. But on stage, the Sharon School student is a 4-foot-4 force to be reckoned with, and he has plenty of awards to show for it.
Ronen only began dancing three years ago, after watching his cousins in a competition. Now, he trains as a dancer, actor, singer and—most recently—a choreographer.
Ronen gained national notice this summer thanks to his newfound love for choreography. The young dancer developed a five-minute choreographed piece called “The Math Dream,” where he created costumes, props and an entire story to explain math equations. The video shows a student struggling with a math problem. He falls asleep into a dream about numbers. The dream ultimately helps the student solve the problem.
He enlisted help from his brothers and parents, filmed a performance of the piece staged in his home and entered it in the Robbinsville PTSA’s Reflections contest last October.
Reflections is an arts recognition program for K-12 students, where students can interpret a theme using visual arts, photography, film, dance, music and literature. In 2015-16, the theme was “Let Your Imagination Fly.”
Ronen won the Robbinsville competition, and scored a Reflections Award of Excellence by the National PTA. Ronen so impressed the national organization, in fact, that he earned an invitation in July to receive his award in Orlando, Florida. He was one of only three students in his grade division to receive the honor, beating out more than 300,000 students from 8,000 schools in the United States.
“I was really surprised when I won,” he said. “It was really exciting.”
Ronen has been training for the stage his whole life, even if his formal training only started a few years ago.
His mother, Pamela Ronen, said he would dance around as a toddler, and she knew she had to sign him up for lessons once he told her he wanted to do more with dance. It helps that Ronen has musical genes—Pamela studied Cello seriously thought her childhood, and still plays. Pamela and husband Asaf—Ronen’s dad—also dance for fun, primarily Salsa and Merengue.
Ronen’s twin brother, Benjamin, and older brother, Elan, are more interested in sports than dancing. They both enjoy mountain biking and hiking. But they, too, enjoy supporting their brother.
“Everyone always comes to support me and watch me,” Ronen said. “My family and my friends, too.”
Ronen began his training at 5 at Dance on Q, located in South Brunswick, taking classes in everything from jazz to lyrical. At 6, he was asked to join the competition team, where he’s racked up a slew of awards.
This past year, Ronen received the “Mr. Junior” title award in three of the four competition events. The award is given to a student showing the best stage presence out of everyone in the entire competition—which could be upwards of a few hundred dancers.
“You will always catch Jonathan in the hallway before class practicing,” said Maria Quezada, creative director and owner of Dance on Q. “Jonathan not only performs in groups but as a soloist and has been recognized consistently as a top scoring soloist.
“Jonathan’s love for dance is his driving force. I say he was born to dance,” Quezada said.
Competing and training at one studio wasn’t enough for Ronen, though. A year after he began at Dance on Q, he also started training with Princeton Dance and Theater and Princeton Youth Ballet.
“I went looking for a summer camp for him and came across PDT’s Young Dancer’s camp,” Pamela said. “He went and it was just amazing—he absolutely loved it.”
At PDT, Ronen got to focus primarily on ballet—where the studio is American Ballet Theater certified—but also was able to choreograph and try other styles, as well.
“He has a great facility and picks up very fast,” said Maura Ryan, assistant director and primary teacher for the Young Dancers summer camp at PDT. “He is bright and concentrates very hard. His creativity gives him a fearlessness that lets him choreograph without any reservation. There aren’t many students like Jonathan.”
Ronen then came across the opportunity to be able to perform in a ballet with PYB in 2014. Since then, Ronen has performed in the December performances of “The Snow Queen” ballet where he got to see how a full-length ballet was put together.
“He loves getting into character and telling a story with his movement,” Ryan said. “He is so expressive and has such great use of his body in order to tell a story.”
Pamela credits Ronen’s ability to create a story, like he did with “The Math Dream,” to watching the creative process and performing in “The Snow Queen” at PYB.
Between competitions, rehearsals and performances, Ronen doesn’t have much time for many other activities. He is solely focused on singing, dancing and now acting.
This summer, aside from attending his camp at PDT and classes at Dance on Q, Ronen performed in a production of “Anything Goes” at Kelsey Theater.
It’s all leading up to where Ronen wants to see himself as an adult: starring in his favorite musical, “Aladdin,” as the lead on Broadway one day.
Those who know him say it isn’t such a stretch.
“Jonathan is an outstanding young boy in every way,” Quezada said. “He is very sweet and committed. Always ready to work and give 100 percent. It has been amazing to watch him blossom. Without a doubt in my mind, I can see Jonathan on Broadway.”