Brewer, Jennifer, Dance Teacher
Catch up on a growing trend: partnerships between dance studios and local schools that let kids out of school early to dance.
Most young people begin serious career preparation during their college years, when they choose classes and majors with an eye to a future professional life. But teens striving to meet the ever-increasing technical demands of a dance career often need to make choices, and sacrifices, while still in high school.
Attendance at a dance-oriented high school has long been an option, but not every young dancer is comfortable leaving the traditional high school environment to focus intently on artistic studies. In response, programs are cropping up around the country that offer serious dance students another option. Programs that combine early release from high school with an increased level of training, such as those at Miami City Ballet School, Pittsburgh Youth Ballet School and Portland School of Ballet, give dancers the chance to attend a local high school while engaging in the intensive dance study that they crave. In most cases, dancers can even receive high school credit for some of the work they do in the studio.
Patricia Delgado graduated from Miami City Ballet School's early release program in 2001 and has danced professionally with Miami City Ballet since then. In order to leave school each day at the lunch hour for ballet classes, Delgado had to make a difficult choice; as a junior she withdrew from her magnet school's prestigious international baccalaureate program, through which she took half her classes in French. "It was a hard decision for me, but my passion was ballet, and it was really nice to be able to include ballet in my school schedule," she says.
For Delgado, being able to live at home while training was an attractive part of the program. "I didn't want to leave home. I didn't want to be socially limited with just dancers [at a boarding school]. This way, I kept my friends and I could go to graduation and the prom."
Kate Garroway, currently a dancer and dance administrator in New York City, was the first graduate of the C.O.R.P.S. early release program of Portland School of Ballet in Maine. She also chose the program so that she could remain at home and maintain a level of academic study that she didn't believe she could find at a performing arts school. After her sophomore year she was accepted to a prestigious boarding school, but entered the C.O.R.P.S. program instead.
Portland Ballet Artistic Director Eugenia O'Brien initiated the program specifically to give dancers like Garroway more choices. "We were losing talented dancers to out-of-state performing arts schools," she recalls. "We couldn't sustain a performing group when the dancers who got proficient enough would leave [for more intense study]."
C.O.R.P.S. dancers attend high school until 1 pm each day, then travel to the dance studios for three hours of technique and other classes. Those who attend Portland High School, the school that first approved the C.O.R.P.S. program, are able to travel by school bus, so that parents aren't required to make two trips to the studio. While O'Brien initially expected C.O.R.P.S. students to transfer to Portland High School, the program has since become widely accepted among high schools throughout the surrounding towns.
Jean Gedeon, artistic director of Pittsburgh Youth Ballet, has had a similar experience with her early release program. "We have as many as 12 different school districts involved," she reports. Gedeon is pleased with the way her students, who perform regularly, have been able to maintain many of the elements of a typical teenager's social life while pursuing their professional goals. "They have the evenings off-they can go to football games and other activities. They have a real life and still get their ballet," she says, adding that her students tend to be high achievers in academics as well as in dance. "We've had four valedictorians in the last few years, and all our students [receive] honors."
While early release programs are designed in part to allow students to avoid the necessity of attending boarding schools, some teens have relocated in order to take advantage of them. Nathan Bland, 17, moved from California to Pittsburgh last summer. "I like the atmosphere. It's very professional, but not cutthroat-it's professional and nurturing," he says. Linda Villella, artistic director of Miami City Ballet School, reports some students making a move in order to take part in the school's early release program. Several of her 10 early release students are from out of state. Both Villella and Gedeon arrange for supervised housing for these students.
Early release students don't miss much of the school day: typically, one or two class periods. Villella notes that because of the number of electives high schoolers take, particularly as juniors and seniors, students are usually able to arrange their schedules so they do not miss required classes. Going the extra mile for her dancers, Gedeon once set up a studio-based French class when several early release students weren't able to arrange their schedules to include their language requirement.
Each program's director has worked with local high schools to arrange credits for hardworking dancers. Miami students receive variable credit for their work in the studio, typically two elective credits per year. Pittsburgh students receive credit in physical education and, sometimes, humanities. Portland dance students can receive credit in PE, health and fine arts. In each program, credits are arranged on an individual basis, and may vary according to the high school involved or a student's past transcript.
"Portland High School developed [a system for] how many credits students receive," says O'Brien. "It's custom-tailored. We work with the school system; it takes a little conversation and effort." Melissa Allen Bowman, who recently joined Pittsburgh Youth Ballet School's faculty and works with the early release students, agrees that it often takes some negotiation to get a student started. "We've never had a high school refuse," she adds. "The schools are getting used to it."
Dancers at the three schools all take at least one ballet technique class per day, augmented by other movement classes, such as yoga or modern dance, or enrichment programs such as anatomy seminars. Miami students usually have rehearsals after their classes, often remaining in the studio until 9 pm. Pittsburgh and Portland students finish their required classes by 5 pm, although they have the option of taking additional evening classes.
Portland dancers examine dance history in conjunction with their technical studies. For example, when Eleanor D'Antuono visited last year to stage Pas de Quatre, C.O.R.P.S. students did research on the legendary dancers who originated the ballet's roles.
If the success of graduates of Pittsburgh Youth Ballet School, Miami City Ballet School and Portland School of Ballet is any indication, students are benefiting from the experience of modifying their academic schedule to make room for professional training while maintaining many "normal" aspects of teenage life. Alumni of these programs are currently dancing with New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Boston Ballet and many major companies throughout the country. Others are enrolled in prestigious college dance programs.
Pittsburgh student Bland is doing a round of auditions this year, for companies as well as schools such as School of American Ballet. He is confident that his current training will help make him competitive. Garroway did the rounds when she graduated, but despite offers from several ballet companies she chose to attend Barnard College in NYC. At Barnard, she discovered a passion for modern dance, which she is currently pursuing on the professional level. Although she didn't choose a ballet career, she continues to value the training she received through the C.O.R.P.S. program. "A lot of discipline comes from studying that seriously at that age," she concludes.
Delgado is convinced that she will pursue an academic education through part-time study during her dance career. "I plan to take courses so that when I retire I won't be starting from scratch. The years when you are [high school and college age] are critical for your ballet career," she says.
In The Works
Julie Fajardo, dance director at Performing Arts School in Worcester, MA, is in the process of developing a program similar to those in Portland, Pittsburgh and Miami. At this point, students do not leave school early for their dance classes. They do, however, receive physical education credit. "I hope to expand [the program] for serious preprofessional students," she says. "I'd like to convince the schools to accept academic credits."
Jennifer Brewer, MSEd, is a freelance writer and dance and academic teacher based in Saco, ME.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: After-School Special. Contributors: Brewer, Jennifer - Author. Magazine title: Dance Teacher. Volume: 25. Issue: 4 Publication date: April 2003. Page number: 85. © Macfadden Performing Arts Media LLC Mar 2009. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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