“She has dancer feet.”
Those were the words of Verlene Shepherd as she held her granddaughter for the very first time.
Shepherd had spent most of her life in Selah and Yakima, but she’d followed her heart to New York, where she danced her way through major musicals including “Oklahoma,” “South Pacific” and “Annie Get Your Gun.” And though the first thing she noticed about the baby — Adele Marie — was a mere observation, it’s proving uncannily prescient.
On a path that’s taken her from FootLites Dance Studio, across the stage of The Capitol Theatre, to a dance company in Nashville and all the way to Los Angeles with a burgeoning acting career that already includes television roles and work in feature films, Adele Marie Pomerenke is proof that persistence pays off — a hometown girl who embodies the idea that when your dreams are big enough, nothing can stop you.
“I got my first pink tutu at 3 — that’s when things really took off,” Pomerenke laughed as she thought back to when she was first drawn to performing arts. “One of the first times I started dancing was with FootLites in Selah. I remember doing a tap dance to ‘The Addams Family.’”
And her training continued from there. There were classes through Melody Lane Dance Music and Drama Academy and Yakima School of Ballet, where she met one of her mentors and found the first passion she truly wanted to pursue.
“I really loved ballet a lot,” she explained. “I started going to Yakima School of Ballet to start studying ballet, and I’ve been doing it ever since. And Lisa Price (Pomerenke’s instructor) — she’s just a gift to kids that want to do ballet or dance or the arts. She’s so supportive.”
Under Price’s tutelage, Pomerenke said she got to do “The Nutcracker” every year at The Capitol Theatre in Yakima. And things continued from there.
Her first musical role was the cat in a Warehouse Theatre Co. production of “Cinderella,” but it’s the first big ballet performance that really stands out for her.
“I was a naughty ladybug in ‘The Nutcracker’ ballet,” she said, pausing briefly before continuing with something of a revelation. “I got that part because I was able to do a left-handed cartwheel, so you never know what it’s gonna be that gets you the role.”
Though the opportunities for bigger roles are increasing, a turbulent adolescence nearly derailed her aspirations.
“When I was in high school, I was the kid that skipped school all the time and smoked cigarettes in the upper parking lot and just was so wild,” she said.
But there was one man who stood out as a beacon of light during those years.
“My drama teacher in high school,” Pomerenke said.
With fondness, Pomerenke recalled the encouragement she received from Vance Jennings, a man she called “so fabulous and inspiring.”
“He believed in me,” she said. “He didn’t need to, but he did.”
Pomerenke first left Yakima at 18, moving to Seattle and studying circus arts for a while. But her brief departure from the world of ballet only helped her realize how much she loved it. She decided to return to studying ballet and came back to Yakima.
And following her heart led to something truly unexpected.
“That’s when I met my husband, who’d just moved back from Phoenix,” she said. “I never thought I’d end up with somebody from my hometown, but I’m so glad I did because I wanted to have that connection.”
Shortly after marrying Michael Pomerenke, she was accepted into a ballet company in Nashville, Tenn., and the newlyweds moved there.
As a trainee in the summer intensive program at Dance Theatre of Tennessee, she quickly worked her way up through the company. In addition to training, she had opportunities to perform. And like a twist in the plot of a Jacqueline Susann novel, Pomerenke got another unexpected break.
“Fall comes around and one dancer in the corps was injured,” she said. “And in two weeks, I had to learn the second act of the lily dance in ‘Giselle.’ It was one of the hardest and most physical things I’ve done because the entire corps was on stage at the same time.”
Standing on stage in a very uncomfortable position, a thought suddenly occurred to her.
“I remember thinking ‘Oh, my gosh! This is what I want to do! This is what I’m doing! And I’ve wanted to do it ever since I was a little kid!’” she exclaimed.
But even with the revelation and her passion for the medium, Pomerenke never felt totally at home off stage in the world of ballet, where the other dancers had life experiences totally unlike hers.
“I was selfish. I partied very hard. I did a lot of substances I’m not particularly proud of. I had chosen to live out of my car because I made poor decisions,” she said. “I felt lonely because I had lived a life that most of them could never understand.”
But when she left the dance theatre, she had no idea what would happen next.
A television reality show casting dancers brought her in for an audition. Although she got a part, the project was abandoned by its organizers.
It was merely a minor setback for someone who was suddenly drawn to a world she hadn’t considered.
“I never thought I was going to move to Los Angeles and become an actress,” she said.
Naturally, that’s exactly what happened next.
“I got an agent, started getting commercials and got my first audition for a short film,” she said.
And she put her lifelong skills as a student of ballet to work.
“I paid attention to what was going on and what everyone was doing behind the scenes,” she said. “It’s like a type of ballet — the camera, the hair, the work, the grips. It’ll all come together to make this one piece of art, and it’s amazing.”
The first speaking part came when she was cast in a horror short called “Hair of the Dog.”
“I played a nasty character — she’s evil,” Pomerenke said. “I can’t even watch it sometimes.”
Next came appearances in TV hits like “Nashville” before jobs put her on sets with recognizable names like Joey Lauren Adams, Billy Ray Cyrus and Academy Award winner Melissa Leo. In the “The Penitent Thief” she’ll play Herodias — her first speaking role since entering the Screen Actors Guild — alongside Kevin Sorbo and James Russo.
And it all started out at dance studio in Selah.
“The training and the dance, attending shows at The Capitol Theatre — I didn’t realize until recently how much that town helped the skills I have now,” she said.
Just before the holidays, Pomerenke was looking forward to a trip home. Her parents — Mike and Dawn Shepherd — are here. So are brothers, a sister, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.
“I want to see a show at The Capitol,” she said. “I spent so much time on the stage. And I’ll go to Sundance Espresso because I love going there for coffee and I love the Lantrips. And I’ll probably go up to Lookout Point for nostalgia. And White Pass because their chili is gluten free and I need some fresh mountain air.”
It’s the kind of nice holiday rest she’ll need for the days and weeks to come.
After Yakima, Pomerenke and her husband will travel to Los Angeles. They’ve decided to take up permanent residence in the land of magic and stardust — a place where determination can take talent far and dreams really can come true.
“I’m excited and I’m nervous
at the same time,” she said. “But it’s the good kind of nerves, like right before you get on stage — I’m just ready.”