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Two Former Child Prodigies Who Beat the Odds

Julian Lage, 21, started playing guitar at the age of five. It was, he says, effortless and fun. "And it stayed that way for my whole childhood."

Growing up in the spotlight

Lage was the subject of the documentary film, Jules at Eight by Mark Becker. It gave a glimpse of what life for Lage was like when people began to understand the talent he had.

He says people would approach his parents, saying they wanted to put him on their TV show, but they almost always declined, putting his interests first. "If they had wanted to make money off of me, it wouldn't have been that way," Lage says.

And he probably would have released his first CD long before this March. Sounding Point has been hailed by critics for its original sound.

That originality is probably why we are still hearing about Julian Lage. According to psychologist Ellen Winner, making the transition from prodigy to adult performer is difficult. "Most of them are unheard of when they become adults."

Winner, the author of Gifted Children: Myths and Realities, says child prodigies are measured by different criteria than adults. "A child prodigy is somebody who masters an area that has already been invented by adults and masters it very, very quickly." To stay in the limelight, Winner says, "you have to be somebody that does something in a new way."

Succeeding through innovation

Rasta Thomas is doing that with his company Bad Boys of Dance. "He's very exciting to watch and has a broad appeal," says Terrence Jones, CEO of Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, where Thomas performed this summer. "His music and his choreography are such that [he] really attracts a young, and if you will, new audience to dance, because it is so accessible."

Like Lage, Thomas was called a child prodigy. When he was 15, he won a gold medal competing against adults in Varna, Bulgaria.

A graduate of the Kirov Academy of Ballet, Thomas built on his classical training by adding moves from modern dance, jazz, musical theater, and even Michael Jackson to make ballet more appealing to his generation.

"It was an elite art form and I wanted to do something about that." His "antidote" was to have younger, hipper dancers and make the performances fun.

Thomas and his wife Adrienne Canterna, another former child prodigy, insert playfulness and humor into their dances. Their performances are a hit with both young and old. They are currently, as one critic wrote, "taking Europe by storm." Last month, twenty-thousand people came to see them in Germany.