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Shining the Spotlight on our Students

by Jessica Moore

From the acquisition of the Glenwood Dance Academy location, which expanded the reach of The School of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet further down valley into Glenwood Springs, CO, to the departure of beloved long-time school faculty Charlotte Bowlby, the 2014-15 school year was one of milestones and transitions. Such achievements were not, however, strictly limited to the upper levels of the organization; our students—the foundation of our school—boasted an incredible year of growth. From a new crop of male talent in Santa Fe, to those advanced students taking the plunge into summer dance intensives, our students are the physical embodiment of the success found through perseverance and dedication to The School of ASFB curriculum.

A major milestone in a budding ballerina’s course of study is the transition from a soft ballet slipper to the iconic pointe shoe. There is nothing quite as exciting as the first pointe shoe fitting and making one’s initial tentative relevé onto the tip of the hard, satin shoe. Melanie Doskocil, director of The School of ASFB in Aspen, explains that our faculty look at each student individually to determine whether or not they are ready to advance into pointe classes. “Starting around age eleven,” she said, “students are evaluated on a wide range of criteria including ankle mobility and strength, turnout, leg strength, and core strength.” This year in Santa Fe, ten girls achieved this important step in their training. Meanwhile, in the Aspen area, another ten girls got fitted for their first shoes, making the trip to Colorado Springs, CO, to see Noel Amend, whose expert eye has matched many of our students with their first pair of shoes.

While the shift into pointe work is exciting, it also signals a change in a dancer’s studies. No longer can students afford to take summers off from practice, as they will fall behind and lose strength in their developing feet and ankles. To that end, The School of ASFB encourages its students to live the summer dance intensive experience by auditioning and traveling to attend programs across the country. It is through these experiences that students will not only enhance their technique, but also be exposed to new people and places that can broaden their perspectives. Doskocil says summer programs are important “because they give students an opportunity to work with other teachers, choreographers, and coaches, and also see what other students their age are doing. Students get a taste of what it might be like if they were a professional dancer: long hours, exposure to new choreographers and coaching, and classes they might not get at home like partnering, pilates, or gyrokenisis.”

Students of The School of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet have attended summer programs at prestigious institutions such as the School of American Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. “The high placement rate of our students into these exclusive programs is indicative of the standards to which our students are held in their yearly training,” says Santa Fe School Director Gisela Genschow. “We strive to ensure that the reputation of the school matches the national reputation of the company.”

This summer, students from both the Aspen and Santa Fe areas will be attending noted programs around the country including Pacific Northwest Ballet, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Alonzo King Lines Ballet, Ballet Austin, and Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Massachusetts. The audition process for these programs is rigorous and requires months of preparation. “The audition process was definitely intimidating and overwhelming,” recalls Aspen student Sydney Clark about her Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet audition. “To take class with about 60 other hopeful dancers all going for the same intensive is stressful, but in the end, when you get accepted into the program, it's one of the best feelings in the world.”

Aspen student Covington Pearson knows that audition experiences are valuable to his development as a dancer: “Having auditioned for over 10 summer intensives, I feel as though I have learned how to prepare myself for an audition and audition with the highest quality that I am capable of.” His confident audition skills paid off, as he was awarded a partial scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet’s summer program in New York and a full scholarship from the Nutmeg Conservatory for both the summer and the year-round professional training programs. Pearson says he is most looking forward to daily partnering and men’s classes, as well as joining The Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory for the upcoming school year. He hopes that his summer dance studies “will help me prepare both physically and emotionally for the upcoming year, as I leave home and my beloved teachers at Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.”

For the majority of the ten young boys enrolled in the Santa Fe schools, the reality of leaving behind the safety of familiar teachers and friends is still years away. For the time being, each has his own reasons for pursuing dance training. Sixteen-year-old Salim Ingram enjoys the “prestige” associated with being a dancer, explaining that “people are always impressed when a boy says he dances.” He continually seeks to improve his technique and thrives in the structured environment of ballet: “The discipline is quite refreshing and you can leave all your problems at the door of the studio.” Jude Harris, age 5, and Joshua Weisner, age 12, both agree that the best part of being a boy in ballet is getting to perform all the great solos; Jude, in particular, is eagerly anticipating his role in the upcoming recital where he gets to “spin the girl dancers around.” Although girls regularly outnumber boys in the studio, for three-year-old Moises Ruiz, being the only boy in his ballet class is a perk. Showing foresight beyond his years, when asked what goal he would like to accomplish in ballet, Ruiz replied that he hopes to one day “hold up the ladies.”

We look forward to seeing our students perform in the end-of-year recitals and wish them all an exciting and productive summer!