Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School

By Weinstein, Tresca | Pointe, April/May 2007 | Go to article overview

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School


Weinstein, Tresca, Pointe


Inspired by the excellence of American Ballet Theatre, JKO School turns out balanced dancers.

American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School has one overarching goal: to produce students who will make ideal ABT dancers. That's a tall order. According to faculty member Nancy Raffa, who also directs ABT's Summer Intensive Program, the perfect ABT dancer is versatile and resilient, with strong classical training, an open mind, an ability to learn quickly and both artistic and technical proficiency. But with a specialized syllabus and an impressive teacher-student ratio, JKO-as it's affectionately referred to among students and faculty-is up to the job.

Launched in January 2004 as the Studio Company Associate Program, the school was quickly renamed for ABT's one-time honorary chairman and 25-year member of the company's board of trustees (Onassis's daughter, Caroline Kennedy, has served as honorary chairman since 1995). The first year-round school instituted at ABT since 1981, JKO has crafted an approach to dance education that's both forward-thinking and solidly grounded in tradition.

Our philosophy is to train the dancers in a very classical way with no stylistic affectation," says JKO Principal Franco De Vita, "because a company like ABT and most companies m the world now are doing such vast repertory, from classical to modern to contemporary, that they need to be able to switch from one to the other."

De Vita and faculty member Raymond Lukens have developed a step-by-step curriculum (based on the Cecchetti Method) designed to address the specific needs and abilities of each age group "in a way that's anatomically healthy for the body and developmentally intelligent, so the information is given at the right time," Raffa says.

Students at JKO, located on the third floor of ABT's headquarters at 890 Broadway in New York City, are separated into three divisions: elementary for ages 12to 14; intermediate for ages 14 to 16; and advanced for ages 16 to 18. Elementary students attend classes five days a week; intermediate and advanced students, six days a week. Classes include classical ballet technique, modern, pointe, variations, partnering, character, men's class and Pilates. De Vita plans to add dance history and tap dance to the curriculum.

Students often come to JKO from one of ABT's summer intensive programs (there are five nationwide) or the company's Ballet Program for the Young Dancer in NYC and now in Los Angeles, for students ages 9 to 11. Auditions are also held annually and by appointment or video. Students are chosen for their musicality, coordination and physical proportions, as well as a drive to learn, work and succeed. Annual tuition is $5,000 for students in the advanced and intermediate divisions and $2,500 for those in the elementary division; scholarships are awarded based on merit and need.

This year's select group of 50 students comes from around the United States as well as Colombia, Mexico and Argentina. Because the school is nonresidential-dormitories are one of De Vita's dreams for the future-students live in the area with relatives or friends. (The family of a 12-year-old boy who shows great promise as a dancer recently relocated from California so he could attend JKO. …

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