After-School Special

Article excerpt

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. …