In every school I’ve taught, (besides the school where I studied as a child…) ballet was always the least popular class (…and I’d venture to guess that was only because it was the only type of class offered).
While there would always be a handful of students that were truly passionate about ballet, it was most often grudgingly or obediently taken when required. Parents would dutifully impress upon their children (no doubt echoing advice from their child’s or even their own dance teachers) that ‘ballet is the most important class,’ and ‘ballet is the foundation of everything else’. And blah, blah, blah.
And the children, especially those passionate about dancing, would gladly oblige and take their ballet classes with discipline and grace in order to improve their turns, their jumps, their extension, score higher, look better, get the solo, whatever.
…But the excitement students seemed to naturally have for their hip hop, tap and jazz classes just wasn’t there for ballet. School, after school, after school. And I wondered…
Where is their pride in shaking limbs, sweaty brow, grit teeth and voila, higher extension?
What about delighting in the badge of honor that is a sweat drenched leotard?
Where is the ‘bam, pow, rock and roll’ excitement of flying around in your Saturday morning grande allegro?
Those were the memories of my ballet training …but I thought maybe it was just me, my friends, Mr. Ohman’s influence.
Needless to say, we didn’t expect to be a popular program when we opened in 2009. Most definitely did not anticipate being a ‘cool’ program. Most definitely did not expect to be outgrowing our expanded space and faculty twice in five years.
Frankly, we expected our policies, requirements and rules to be challenged. We expected to bore most people right out the door and back to the trendy costumes and bumpin’ music of the ever popular combo class. We thought we’d be appreciated by some, and create enthusiasm for a mere few. So we ventured out and hoped to be a good match for a small number of students looking for more traditional ballet training without the distractions of competitions, recitals, glitz, fou-fou, and unenthused classmates.
And yet, it’s turned out entirely different from what we expected five years ago.
Here we are. Our students are thriving and our student body is thriving. Students and parents come to me to ask for more technique time, less fou-fou, less glitz and glamour, less recital, less flashy, more work, more authenticity, more master classes, more fifth position, more tendu, more terminology, more technique, technique, technique. The kids are proactive. They come in to work and they demand it of themselves, each other, and their teachers. They want their teachers to work them harder, challenge them more, and hold them more accountable. They ask to be held accountable. If I forget their planks or 100s as promised, they remind me with the kind of chutzpah that would make you think I cancelled Christmas.
They compete with themselves. They treat every class like it’s an audition for the best day of their lives. They hold themselves accountable. They behave professionally even if they don’t want to be a pro -because why not be as awesome as possible? They encourage and support each other. They aim higher than they did last week. They are not interested in impressing the misguided or ignorant among the audience who get excited by high kicks, tricks and turns, but instead they are interested in the work, the process, and knowing that they’ve improved.
We don’t expect to be a right match for every student. That would be naïve and would benefit no one. There are students who want nothing further from ballet class and we’re happy to see those kids thrive where they need to be. But we are so much more astounded, gratified and inspired to see such a number of dancers shining brighter and brighter every semester in their ballet classes.
And ironically, we didn’t need to rake the entirety of the commutable island for the most dedicated dancers in order to operate a school replete with dedication and enthusiasm for ballet. Instead, we have a body of students, mostly from around the block, many who walked in deer-eyed and timid their first day, so thoroughly excited to be here, so enthusiastic and so fierce that I have to just say: Dancers, Your Awesome is Showing!