Ballet Bob

By Lass, Jenny | Dance Teacher, September 2003 | Go to article overview

Ballet Bob


Lass, Jenny, Dance Teacher


Canada's Robert McCollum uses humor and fun to help adult students bring out the dancer within.

According to Robert McCollum-known affectionately by Canadian students of all ages as "Ballet Bob"-everyone has an "inner dancer," that uninhibited toddler who "prances around the living room to music." McCollum's boundless sense of fun, creativity and good humor has made him one of the Great White North's most admired instructors, and a particular gem for older students returning to ballet after years away-or even trying it for the first time.

"Quite often there's a lot of joy in my dult classes when I see some of those adults hit it," he explains. In addition to appreciating McCollum's inclusive attitude, many adult students are drawn to his contagious wit. "Humor helps the classroom situation [more] than barking orders," he says. Even after a long day, he regales his evening classes with tales of his early mistakes and is quick to reenact them to humorous effect. He points out his students' errors with just as much kindness and mirth.

McCollum's gift with adults is born out of his own relatively late discovery of ballet. In an artform where overzealous parents often try to enroll three-year-olds in preprofessional programs, McCollum was already an adult when he discovered dance at the age of 19. As an actor playing the part of a dancer, he was so convincing that a friend suggested that he take ballet classes. He enrolled at the Cambridge School of Ballet, promptly fell in love with dance, and has been dancing ever since. McCollum's late-blooming but serious desire for a dance career led him to New York City, where he was a scholarship student at the Joffrey Ballet School. Always striving to expand his skills, he sought the guidance of Emiko and Yasuko Tokunaga. "My body was somewhat difficult, so they took a very, very different approach with me," McCollum says. The Tokunagas' influence was strong-remnants of their holistic, innovative approach remain evident in McCollum's teaching method several decades later.

After studying with Maggie Black and performing with the Omega Dance Company, in 1977 McCollum joined Ballet Ys, a small contemporary company in Toronto. After two years with Ballet Ys, he sustained an injury and began teaching regularly at Toronto's George Brown College Theatre School. Twenty years later, he remains at George Brown, instructing both actors and dancers. In 1996, McCollum began developing the National Ballet School of Canada's adult dance program, whose enrollment has since grown from 60 to over 250 students. He also teaches at Toronto Dance Theatre, Canadian Children's Dance Theatre, Dance Nova Scotia's Summer Dance intensive and for the National's teacher training program. …

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