Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ballet Soup: ABT's NTC Level 4-5 course

Well I made it through the week.  American Ballet Theatre’s National Training Curriculum level 4-5 was at times daunting, the amount of new information sometimes felt overwhelming especially since I’ve always been the type of dancer who experiences movement more than I think about it.  However, the further I get into the program, the more the structure of the training becomes clear to me.   At each level the basic principles stay the same, as Ryan sometimes says, “ballet is nothing more than fancy walking.”  Well it’s a little more complicated than that but in truth all of ballet and really movement if you think of it is composed of 7 basic elements.

            Pliér – to bend 
 Etendre – to stretch                                                                                                Relever – to rise up
Sauter – to jump

Elancer – to dart refining the body of the dancer in space as he/she alters position in the room.
     Glisser – to glide                                                                                 Tourner – to turn

Add to this ABT’s 10 principles and voile, you’ve got yourself a method.  To turn a method into a curriculum we add progression.  Here is were level 4-5 got challenging for me, not only was I required to know what students of this ability should be able to do and what they shouldn’t be asked to do for either safety or developmental reasons, but also how to get them to a place of proficiency starting at the Pre-Primary level (age 3).

On Saturday we had our exams and I’m happy to say that I passed which allows me to continue on to the final levels this week.  I am looking forward to seeing how the curriculum creates the dancers who grace the stage, what tools are given to achieve mastery of technique and artistic expression.  While, until now I feel the most affinity with level 4, the opportunity to see the upper level students at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and take class with their teachers touches again the dancer inside of me.  The one who feels and now thinks.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Ballet on the Brain at American Ballet Theater's National Training Curriculum Seminar in New York

As I sit here in my New York apartment overlooking Lincoln Center, holy ground to performing artists,  my mind is blown away.  How are great artists made, or really, are they made, formed, or simply immaculately created?  What makes a Misty Copeland successful and countless other talented dance students fall just short.  After my second day of ABT's National Training Curriculum Level 4-5 course I've come to realize that the quality of one's dance education, especially from a young age, may be the key towards their future success.

Maartje and Niko at ABT New York
Yesterday was a day full of lectures pertaining to dancer health, and connecting the dots between the levels which I passed in February with what we are about to learn.  I'm so happy to revisit this method of training, it is almost like science.  The progression of this 400 year old art form is so logical and the way ABT makes it relevant to today's dancer, professional or hobbyist alike, is rich, tasteful, precise, and so challenging in its simplicity.

Today just got better, we spent hours analyzing movements, discussing the building blocks as more advanced steps and sequences are taught.  A highlight was seeing one of our students, Niko who we have taught for the past two years, apply this training style so well.  This summer at ABT he is making great progress, proof that the system works.  We look forward to hearing from other students studying at ABT's North Carolina and Long Beach programs when we and they return.

 Finally, after a day and a half of sitting, something guaranteed to make dancers achey and antsy, we had the opportunity to learn by doing.
The Level 4 class is designed for dancers from 11 and up, but that doesn't mean it's easy.  We are not just learning what to teach students (terminology and steps) but how to bring information across in a proven methodology taking into account developmental age and various learning styles.  I'm sure to be sore tomorrow.

Now its on to homework.  Each day begins with a review and demonstration by the students of the previous day's work.  We are expected to continuously implement new information concluding in a final exam on Saturday.  Tomorrow I'll be teaching either a petite battement with filk-flak at the barre or a tendu in center.  The decision lies not on what I want to teach, but on what I want the student to learn.  That is the crux of this method, everything is designed to develop the dancers of the future, who must show versatility built on a solid foundation of techinque.  Stay tuned for more updates as the week progresses and for next week's Level 6-7 workshop.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

In Appreciation of Teachers and Teaching

There is no doubt in my mind that the single biggest influence in my dance life were my teachers.  By no stretch of the imagination could I have reached the levels I did without them and their impact continues to be with me every time I step inside the studio.  Each teacher gave me exactly what I needed when I was studying under them and the gift of letting me take the next step on my own.  So, as Teacher Appreciation Week draws to an end I would like to highlight four of them in the hopes that by sharing their unique teaching traits we may all grow a little wiser.

Lori Lee Silvaggio
You showed me that dance was about joy and communicating that joy with the world.  Not only did you teach me to love dancing, you instilled in me a righteous purpose and a feeling that what the world needed was dance.  The flame you lit at the age of 7 was so strong that it has yet to fade and I still have "Lori" moments in the studio, moments where I am so blown away by my student's pleasure of movement that I again gain confidence in the future.

Richard Rein
You gave my movement language and taught me how to communicate through dance.  Your classes shaped not only my body, carefully crafting each muscle through rigorous technical training, but also my understanding of what it takes to become a professional.  You never let me weaken or give up, finding opportunities for me to grow amidst doubt and injury.

Benjamin Harkarvy
My time with you was perhaps the most transformative.  Your gift was to help me find my voice and to show me that I had something to say.  You advocated for artistry and instilled a great respect for the concept of process.  I feel so blessed to have studied during your tenure at Juilliard, the program you crafted brought together individuals, teacher and student alike, and placed authenticity above employability.

Julie Nakagawa
Through our time together I rediscovered the notion that dance is a performance art.  You showed me how to share my dancing, to perform.  You also shepherded me into the profession of dancer and taught me to respect dance, not only as a verb, but as a noun.  I will always be thankful for your wisdom, humbleness, and insistence with a shrug that I decide for myself.

These teachers were not only important for my career as a dancer, but were also incredibly important in my decision to teach.  Their actions were decidedly void of ego and while it is perhaps naiveté to assume that their purpose was solely to make me the best dancer possible, what's important is that I felt that desire from them and that support.

I now aim to pass along their knowledge, their gifts to me and as a teacher I am humbled and appreciative of the opportunity I have.  Dancer's place not only their bodies but their hearts into the hands of their teacher, asking for guidance and instruction despite the risk of failure and humiliation.  For this I thank my students and their families for the trust and faith they have in me.

With Appreciation,

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Man on a Mission

I don't remember when I decided I wanted to be a dancer, in fact I don't even know if I ever decided.  I know that I loved dancing from an early age, but I also enjoyed and participated in a lot of activities (except for basketball, I really stunk at basketball).  Saturday mornings were spent playing only the first half of the soccer match so that I could make it to tap at 9:45, Summers were spent with my hair permanently dyed green because there was no time to shower after swimming as I had to get to ballet.  I suppose from all these activities dance was the one I loved the best, and was probably the one I was best at, because as I neared high-school my focus narrowed and the intensity of my dance training increased.

Thinking back, the impetus for this shift, was likely a trip to London with my father at the age of 13.  Upon arrival at Heathrow we saw a poster for the Kirov Ballet which was performing at Covent Garden that night.  Although severely jet-lagged and unaccustomed to Europe's 30 minute intermissions (of which there were three) we made it through the performance and both our lives were changed forever.  Three of our 5 nights in London were spent at the ballet, and when I returned to San Luis Obispo, my future vision and immediate educational track had sharply shifted

At the time, San Luis Obispo was only about half as big as it is now and the surrounding communities seemed, at least at my pre-drivers licensed age, more isolated from the county center.  This isolation was and still is what makes the Central Coast great for being a kid, but for being a male dancer with professional aspirations it was just too limiting.  At 14 I left to study with one of New England's preeminent male dance teachers and this decision, though hard, brought me the opportunities which shaped my life  (namely to meet my beautiful Dutch wife, Maartje).

While becoming a dancer may or may not have been a conscious decision, the choice to give back to community, to share the knowledge I've gained through my education, and to bring, to the best of my ability, the experiences I've had to the dancers of San Luis Obispo most certainly is.

Dance is for everybody. I believe that the dance came from the people and that it should always be delivered back to the people.  - Alvin Ailey

Our mission at the Movement Arts Center is to provide professional level dance training supported by the ABT® National Training Curriculum.  We also believe that movement is a basic human right and as such have classes in diverse styles of dance including adaptive dance for children and adults who have movement disorders such as Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, and Parkinson's.  Both of these  movement programs aim to enrich the lives of the participants, their families, and our community much in the way that those fateful performances in London one summer enriched and shaped mine.

Dream to dance and dance to dream.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Movement Arts Center Takes Flight

Seldom in a dance career are both the process and the product a success.  Creation can be tough, friction can develop between dancers, choreographers can encounter crises of confidence, and even though all involved certainly want what they are making to be a work they are proud of, the truth remains that not all dance is great.  Having experienced this as a dancer and as a choreographer it would be easy to apply this logic to everything: a simple pregnancy is not a guarantee of a simple birth,  just because a meal is delicious doesn't mean it can't make you sick, and what seems like a good idea on paper may not work in real life. It would be easy to stop there and never get anything done, but then, we wouldn't be dancers.

Dancers aim to soar in defiance of gravity, to visually embody sound, and to speak with movement rather than words.  We aim to achieve what is beyond the scope of normal human existence, all while trying to demonstrate the best and the worst of the human condition.

It is with this background, this perhaps fortunate history that we embark on our next venture, knowing that failure is an option but that never trying is not.

We are excited to announce that come this June, San Luis Obispo and the surrounding communities will have a new mecca for training in dance and movement.  Located at 2074 Parker St., the Movement Arts Center will be the premier facility for developing dancers as well as movers and shakers of all ages.  With a curriculum based ballet program, ancillary classes in jazz and contemporary, yoga, and adaptive dance, we think we can make a difference and we think you can too.

So if you are a student of ours, a friend, a family member, a resident of SLO who cares about the arts, or even just a random individual who wants to be a part of what we are doing, subscribe to this blog.

We are eager to share the process with you.  We want to do this because we hope that the Movement Arts Center will become your home too, and the home for dance on the Central Coast.  And, unlike those many days spent in the studio wondering if the product would work or if the process was worth the work itself, we strive to believe that with your love and support we can have both.  Why?  Because we're dancers just like you.

Bring art to your movement, and movement to your life!

Ryan and Maartje Lawrence and the SLO Movement Arts Center.