CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Deborah Novak first slipped into a leotard and ballet flats at age 5. She trained and performed with the prestigious Dickinson School of Dance through high school, and continued classes with the American Ballet Theater while studying theater and film at New York University.
She quit dancing in her mid-20s to pursue a career on stage. Later in life, she took up filmmaking. Since returning almost 10 years ago to her Huntington home, she's won awards for documentary films like "Ashes to Glory," about the 1970 Marshall football team plane crash. And she's dancing again, nearly every day with Kim Pauley and the Charleston Ballet.
Steve Caras had been dancing for only three years when, at age 18, George Balanchine asked him to join the New York Ballet. His dance career was brief, though. At 26, Balanchine failed to cast him for a role he normally danced, according to the Palm Beach Daily News.
So he regrouped, picked up a camera and became a leading ballet photographer.
Although they never danced together, Novak and Caras crossed paths years ago in New York. Impressed, Novak made a note in her future-projects file. In early 2010, she and her husband, fellow filmmaker John Witek, decided to follow up.
The resulting hour-long documentary -- "Steve Caras: See Them Dance" -- first aired on Huntington public access and Arizona public television on March 8, 2011. On July 28, it won an Emmy for Arts & Entertainment at the 48th annual Ohio Valley Regional Emmy Awards.
"I'm on cloud nine," Novak said last week. The film already had won best of show at the Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival, but the black-tie Emmys are special, she said.
"There's just such a cache . . . when you get to the Emmys and they call your name, your heart flutters.
"I think it's big for ballet, too. They say ballet films are marginalized. This is about loss and regeneration. There are a lot of things nondancers can relate to."
Novak is no stranger to the Emmy awards. "My first was for 'Ashes to Glory,'" which premiered in November 2000. She won another for "Cam Henderson: A Coach's Story," and has filmed documentaries on Blenko Glass, all for West Virginia public television.
Her latest film was independently produced and financed. She credits her brother, a New York lawyer, for helping her meet Caras.
"His office was right next door to Terry Caras, Steve's brother. I kept hearing about Steve -- he's a dancer and he started taking photographs that were extraordinary. I started putting two and two together.
"We started in 2010. There's a lot of years in this. We started shooting in New York."
She and her team interviewed dance professionals like Patricia McBride, Allegra Kent, Jacques D'Ambroise, Mia Michaels and Peter Martins, the ballet master of the New York City Ballet. They collected archival photos from around the world of superstars like Mikhail Baryshnikov and Suzanne Farrell.