Helping Our Students Find Their Voice

There was a very interesting article in Dance Magazine, in which the author Nancy Wozny queries: “Has the quest for versatility erased dancers’ movement signatures?”. I’ve never heard this question posed in quite this way. I have been bemoaning what I have called a “loss of artistry”. Dancers no longer seem to have a unique voice and I have written numerous articles on cultivating this unique voice; this artistry while training technique. But this concept of “erasing a dancer’s movement signature” very eloquently expresses exactly what I’ve been talking about. Ms. Wozny hypothesizes that the quest for versatility is the culprit; and that may be true. But I believe that this is only a very small part of problem.


Mikhail Baryshnikov famously said: “I don’t try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.” And I believe that this is the source of his unique artistic vision.

 
Young dancers today spend an enormous amount of time on social media, watching the “stars” that they follow on Facebook and Instagram. They long to be like their idols and they copy what they see; putting their energy into dancing exactly like these “stars”… or perhaps even BETTER. But what they are looking at, what they are aspiring to, is the quantifiable: the length of the balance, the height of the leg, the number of pirouettes. And these quantifiables are often the basis of competition judging. 


Although I work primarily in the preprofessional/conservatory facet of the dance industry, I am a frequent guest teacher at competition studios and I believe that competitions have much to offer dancers (and I’ve already discussed this in previous articles). But when it comes to developing artistry, a unique voice, a “movement signature”, I believe that competitions could be part of the problem. When I watch group competition pieces I am always stunned by the miraculous unison; the incredible uniformity in the dancing. And this “sameness” is rewarded in the judging. Similarly, when one watches videos of examinations and classes at the great academies we see that same uniformity. All the bodies are pretty much identical. Every movement, nuance, gesture, tilt of the head  is meticulously sculpted and studied and honed. This uniformity; this “copying” of detail is not at all the same thing as the development of  artistry or a “movement signature”. There was a recent interview with an ABT principal in which she stated that (and I’m paraphrasing) contemporary styles allow her to express what she has inside her…but when she dances classical ballet she is trying to “replicate what the great ballerinas before her have done.”


And right here is our problem. Students are copying their insta-celebrities. Competition dancers are striving for staggering unison. Great academies are selecting for extreme body uniformity and maddeningly and meticulously training finely honed details. And sadly, and shockingly, ABT principals are attempting to replicate the great ballerinas of the past. And we wonder why there seems to be no great ARTISTS any more. Well, I believe that our industry is training the artistry right out of the dancer.
I have always taught my students that our bodies are our instruments and our technique allows us to use these instruments. An audience will never be truly moved by watching technique. As we train we must each search for a way to make the work personal. There should always be a quest to say something new with each step; to use our bodies and our technique to breathe life into the choreography and to make the choreography, the music and the artistry a unified whole. As most of you know, I still take class regularly and I am always looking for something new. When I was about 45 years old I found a way to pull up just a bit more in my standing hip that gave a unique look to my retire. When I was about 55 I discovered a little nuance in the epaulment when executing tendu croise derrière that added an extra richness to the position. And now my retire and my tendu croise derrière don’t look like quite any one else’s. Using the music as a guide, I recently discovered a way to phrase a mazurka that gives it a little “something extra”. And every day I continue this search. I was taught by my teachers to “Feel the space”, Dance from the inside”, “Let the feeling cover the technique”, “Dance the sound…not the steps”. I pass these lessons onto my students. But I also teach them things that I have found on my own. I teach them to “dare to be still”, “find power in the simplicity”, “make the work YOURS”, “draw the audience in rather than shout the choreography out”. And as I continue to take class and I watch my colleagues I feel more and more that I am alone in my approach. 


The uniqueness of Pliesetskaya, Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Gregory, Kirkland, Makarova, Farrell and (as recent as) Wendy Whelan could never been created by copying. Copying creates…well…a copy. What will thrill an audience is an ORIGINAL. And every day I am striving to create one; the only way I know how.

More on Lara Spencer, Good Morning America and the Dance Community’s Response

And so the discussion of Lara Spencer’s comments on Good Morning America is turning into an ever growing swirling vortex of drama. Most of my colleagues are outraged. I have read social media posts that have demanded apologies. I have read social media posts that have called her apology “lame”. There are professionals in my industry who have called Ms. Spencer: A Bully, Dumb Ass, Stupid, Ignorant, Mean, Insensitive and some other names I prefer not to repeat. I have read dozens of posts calling for her to be fired. 


I so often find myself disagreeing with the majority of my colleagues; and that is actually how the idea for this blog and website was born. So, once again, I will respectfully disagree with what I have read from many of my fellow dance professionals and dance families. I know that this may anger some of the people who read this, but it is the discussion of the issues that I find so fascinating.


Most of my readers know my story, but for those who do not, I would like to briefly state that I was, for the first part of my life, a victim of what Ms. Spencer dished out on national television. I was raised in an environment where boys did not pursue careers in dance and I was the target of merciless bullies for my entire youth. Having not had the opportunity to train as a dancer until my late twenties, the kind of performing career that I longed for was an impossibility. By the time I had developed the artistry and technique that could get me hired by a major ballet company, I was too old to be hired by a major ballet company. I harbored anger over this for over 25 years; dwelling on the pain of wondering what “might have been”. I am now closer to 60 than I care to admit. Recently, a soloist in ABT told me that her goal was to dance like me. And as lovely and flattering as that compliment is…it just stirred up that pain all over again. So my comments, my point of view are not coming from a teacher, a retired dancer, a dance mom or an advocate against bullying. My comments and my point of view are coming from a victim of this precise way of thinking and acting. And my life, my career, my future were directly impacted by this environment.


Firstly, I do not believe that Ms. Spencer is stupid or ignorant. I believe that Ms. Spencer, like much of our country, is uninformed when it comes to ballet. It appears that she simply does not understand or have the slightest bit of knowledge as to what it takes to become a dancer, what dancers do or the passion that we feel for our work. She simply DOES NOT KNOW. And because she does not know, she said something cruel. And as a result she infuriated and entire industry and bullied a child. I truly do not believe that Ms. Spencer woke up that morning and said “I’m going to go on TV this morning, I’m going to infuriate an entire industry and I’m going to bully a defenseless six year old child.” I believe that since she was uninformed, she made a mistake. I agree that people who have the ear of society, people who are in the public eye should be held to a higher standard. But she made a mistake (and I have made many, many mistakes myself). And this was a BIG mistake. But I don’t believe that punishing her by simply terminating her contract will solve the problem or teach her and those like her anything at all. Simply firing her out of hand will teach her to never do this again. But, sadly, it will not teach her why. It will manage her behavior but will not get to the root of the problem. Many are saying that the apology is “lame”. Do I think that her apology was insufficient? Yes, I do. But how could it be any better when I believe she truly does not understand what she did. But if we take away her job, berate her in the media, call her names and refuse her apologies then we are, actually, not much better than she is; we become the bullies, she becomes the victim. And isn’t this precisely what we are fighting?


We are educators and this is a time where we have to be at our best. This is an opportunity for us to try to teach Ms. Spencer, Good Morning America, ABC, and the world at large about what we do as dancers and dance educators. This unfortunate incident has actually opened a door. It has given us a forum,  it has started a conversation that can teach the world what we do and what it means to us. I have always believed in teaching by example; and yelling, name calling and terminating contracts is not the example I want to set. I’m hoping that my thoughts, my writings, and the thoughts and writings of others in our industry will continue to be shared and read. If enough of us are engaging in TEACHING about what we do rather than screaming, name calling and berating our offenders, perhaps our words will ultimately reach the right ears and the right eyes. And perhaps the words of a victim (like me) will reach a bully (like Ms. Spencer) and perhaps we can start to make changes. If there were a way for me to reach the ears of Ms. Spencer, Good Morning America and ABC I would welcome the opportunity to start a real conversation. Unfortunately I, by myself, am too small and insignificant and my reach is too limited.


My life was filled with pain and disappointment due to people like Ms. Spencer. Many of those people were the people closest to me and truly believed that they were acting out of love and in my best interest. But that pain and disappointment lead me to leave the dance industry much too soon. When I returned to the dance world in my forties, and my body really began to betray me, the anguish of the lost opportunity was unimaginable. But then one day I was asked to do some substitute teaching. And I found a new passion. And the Joffrey Ballet School opened its doors, it’s arms and its heart to me. And that day my life was changed forever. 


The people around me, the people in my life who once were the source of the anguish, are now looking at me through new eyes. I have a career. I have the respect of my students, my colleagues and my readers. And I have finally, in my fifties, found happiness and fulfillment. Those people who were the unwitting bullies in my world now realize how their behavior impacted my entire life. I have taught them what it means to be a dancer, what it means to have a passion and what it means to follow one’s dream; no matter how ridiculous it may seem to someone else. And I didn’t teach them this by yelling, berating, chastising and name calling. I taught them by example. 

A Response to Lara Spencer

Dear Ms. Spencer,

I am deeply saddened by your comments and tone of voice when discussing Prince George’s ballet classes. Boys who study ballet have long been the target of bullying and sadly, they are rarely protected by adults and society at large in the way that other “marked” children have been protected. I find it surprising that a respected member of the media who has the public’s ear in the way that you do, would participate in shaming a child because he is a boy who dances. I have, as an adult man, walked away from a very lucrative health-care career to refocus my life on my passion for ballet. I’m a faculty member at The Joffrey Ballet School in New York City where every day I am privileged to help guide tomorrow’s professional ballet dancers into their careers. I was wondering what your thoughts would be on some of the decisions that I have made in my life. Although I hardly have the reach that someone in your position does, I am widely respected in my field and teach at a school which is one of our country’s great artistic national treasures. Here is an article that I have written on boys and their struggles in society when they choose to study ballet. In the event that this email actually makes its way to you, I do hope you can find time in your schedule to read it. I would be very curious to hear your thoughts. https://classicalballetandallthatjazz.com/2018/01/04/a-note-to-boys-who-dance-and-to-their-parents/

Selecting a Teacher

This is an article that I adapted from an earlier blog post. It was published in Danzin’ Magazine.

As we approach a new year of dance training, many parents and students in our industry will be looking for new teachers. Similarly, many schools, studios and conservatories will be looking to hire new faculty members. And finding the right teacher can be a very difficult process for both students and studios. It has come to my attention recently,  that many parents, students and studio owners are favoring young teachers who can still dance “full out” over older, perhaps more experienced teachers. Dance can not really be taught by simply “showing”. If showing and demonstrating was the primary necessary skill and talent, then one could simply learn to dance by watching videos of dancers… and we all know that isn’t possible. Many newer and younger teachers (not all) tend to “show”. Clearly they explain while they show but they tend to rely on “this is how you do it” and then demonstrate the step or combination. Of course they will give some “how-to” information and offer some corrections, but in my experience with many newer teachers, they tend to rely on their technical prowess to make their point. I know that I did. Then the years crept on and one day, no matter how hard I worked, no matter how many hours I put into the studio, my body betrayed me.

I believe that dancing is more about “what it feels like” than “what it looks like”. This idea has always informed my teaching, but as my body declined it became more and more apparent that I was going to need to become a more skillful explainer if I was going to have a career. Of course, when teaching beginners, a certain amount of demonstration is helpful; and perhaps even necessary. But one does not need to tendu like Baryshnikov to teach tendu.

I remember the legendary Luigi talking about what he “felt” in class. He continued to demonstrate, as best he could, as his body aged. Clearly in his advanced years he couldn’t dance like he did in his youth. No one can. But he could still, though his teaching, take an absolute beginner and guide a dancer into a career. He explained everything from the point of view of what it felt like to him. He explained these feelings in excruciating detail. He explained what he did and how he did it with brilliant clarity. It was a painstaking, time-consuming process. And it took a student who was very hungry and very patient to “get it”. But once the student “got it” they had a depth of knowledge and understanding of dance that was richer, more profound, more expressive and more interesting than the students of the other methods that I encountered. He so often said to me “I don’t teach chorus dancers, I make stars”. And to a certain degree he did. Every student that passed through his studio was brought up and nurtured, through his technique, to become profoundly unique artist with a solid technique that supported their artistic expression. There certainly are young, fit, still performing dancers who are excellent teachers. But to think that a studio owner or parent would prefer a young teacher, still in “performing shape” to a seasoned and experienced professional simply because they can demonstrate “full-out” is disappointingly short sighted.

Building a dance technique and cultivating an artist is not a quick process. It takes endless hours of maddening repetition under the guidance of a teacher who knows how to impart the information. I implore studio owners and parents to weigh their choices very carefully. Careers can be made by a teacher and careers can be destroyed by a teacher. Do not select a teacher based on what they can show, because these teachers will create dancers who can “do”. Rather, select a teacher based on what they can teach, because these teachers will create dancers who can soar.

Luigi teaching in the studio
Luigi, well past the age of 80, still teaching

Bullying in the Ballet Studio…By the Teacher

As of this week, I have a new student in my open classes. He is a working actor with an actual career (not one of the myriad of aspiring young hopefuls who call themselves actors). He is quite a good dancer, although perhaps not dancing a a first-rate professional level – not yet. He is what many would consider a “dream come true” student: dedicated, hard working, serious, open minded, willing to take corrections, and LOVES the process of learning to dance. When I thanked him and told him it was a pleasure to have him in class, he replied that he could no longer “take the abuse and humiliation” he was receiving from his previous teacher.

I know that these teachers exist. I, myself, am the product of one of these teachers. I know that there are students that are drawn to these teachers. What I do not understand is WHY.

When I began my training so late in life, there was nothing I wanted more than to dance. When I found a ballet teacher that was famous, respected, known for getting excellent results, and was willing to take an interest in ME, willing to work with ME, willing to guide this adult beginner into a career, I was willing to accept any sort of treatment just to be able to get that training. I, personally, was never the target of the bullying that was dealt out in that studio. I was never singled out and humiliated. I was never made to question my value as an artist, as a dancer, as a PERSON…but many of my classmates were. One of my colleagues, a stunning young ballet dancer, was told by this teacher in front of forty students that she would NEVER have a career. And this was not the only dance teacher in New York who was dealing out this form of abuse. And dancers simply “took it”. Many have told me that they believe that this sort of relentless targeting by the person they were trusting with their career left deep emotional scars. Some once very promising dancers that I know believe that their lack of confidence and subsequent lack of success was the direct result of this form of teaching.

I know a working professional dancer who currently takes his daily class with one of these teachers. This dancer has MAJOR companies on his resume. He has danced in some of the world’s great theaters. He has had the kind of career thus far that most students can only dream of. He tells me about these classes and how he LOVES this teacher. He LOVES when this teacher screams, humiliates and singles out students. He LOVES when this teacher treats the pianist with disdain simply because the pianist can’t read his mind. This dancer believes that he is in the presence of great teaching. He believes that this is great teaching because this teacher is famous. I have seen this dancer dance. Yes, he has a great resume. But as a dancer, as an artist…he is…well…”perfectly fine”.

I am not sure what these teachers are trying to achieve. Do they believe that this is the best way to get a result? Are they simply passing on the abuse that they received from their teachers to the next generation of dancers? Are they just mean and unhappy bullies?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record I would like to, once again, reference my time spent studying under Luigi. Many people in our industry cavalierly toss around the title “Master Teacher”. If these people had ever actually been in the presence of a TRUE Master Teacher we wouldn’t be hearing that term nearly as often. But Luigi was the real thing. He changed the way dance was taught all over the world. He created a completely new technique and created a virtually endless list of brilliant dancers and choreographers who credit him with their success (Liza Minnelli, Donna McKechnie, Ben Vereen, Charlotte D’Amboise, Susan Stroman, Twyla Tharp…). Never, not once, did I see Luigi berate or humiliate a student. He taught his classes from a place of love and he always believed that a dancer had to be nurtured. The results of his brilliant teaching are unquestionable.

There is much that I have taken from the Luigi Technique into the ballet studio. I learned musicality from Luigi. I learned port de bras from Luigi. I learned epaulment, phrasing and personal style from Luigi. And I have brought these lessons into my ballet classes and I am passing on the philosophy of this jazz technique to my ballet students. But the most two important things that I learned from this truly great Master Teacher are the love of the process and the need to nurture and cultivate students.

I have heard from young dancers that these bullying teachers “light a fire under them”. If a dancer needs to have a “fire lit under them” to get them to work, then they are, in my opinion, in the wrong business. Because if you don’t love the work; if the endless, repetitious, relentless training is not the most important thing in your life, then you probably will never be good enough anyway. So why would the abuse of a teacher have any positive impact at all?

And so my young friend with the great resume will continue to study with his famous teacher that he loves. He will continue to take the abuse. And he will continue to dance…and he will, I’m sure, continue to be “perfectly fine”. And I will continue to search for the artist in each of my students. I will continue to nurture the seeds of greatness that might or might not be lying dormant at the core of their being. I may never produce a truly great dancer; that sort of greatness is very rare. But I certainly don’t want my students to settle for “perfectly fine”. I will try to treat every student that walks into my room with love and respect and I will, to the best of my ability, nurture the gifts that they have deep inside. I will try to help them dance from the inside, to feel the work from a very deep place, to respond to the music and to love the process. And if I’ve done my job right, each of them, on their own terms, will soar.

Ballet is Boring

I recently read a Facebook post that focused on ballet teachers who teach in recreational or competition studios where the students tend to believe that “ballet is boring”. Many of these teachers find it very difficult to motivate these students to work to their fullest potential and these teachers are finding it more and more difficult to get a satisfactory result out of these dancers; dancers who think that “ballet is boring”. The post suggested that the problem lie in the teaching. The thrust of the argument is that if the teachers would simply bring ballet to these students with passion, with love, with enthusiasm and just make ballet as engaging and important to the students as it is to the teacher then the students would love it too. Problem solved.

I have had, during my career, similar opinions.

And then I was charged with teaching “required ballet classes” to students who thought “ballet was boring”.

Now I LOVE what I do. I have worked harder than I ever thought possible and I have made many sacrifices to have the career that I have. I have walked away from a very lucrative career to spend my life teaching ballet. I have been told that I am an inspiring teacher. I have packed open classes at Joffrey. I have had countless studios bring me at great cost to teach and inspire their students. But I was now facing five classes a week of students who, for the most part, thought “ballet was boring”. And I found myself at a loss. There was nothing I could do to get these kids onboard. Nothing.

I take my work very seriously and I never pretend to have all the answers. I am also not afraid to admit (both publicly and in print) when I am having trouble, when something isn’t going perfectly. So I started searching. I looked for new ways to construct exercises. I looked for new and interesting ways to approach the discussion of technique. I searched for music. I took as many classes as I could…and I watched other teachers teach. And I was at a loss because I was unable to motivate these students. The teacher who wrote the article professed that the problem lie in the teaching; that she was able to motivate her students who thought “ballet was boring” and get a beautiful result out of all of them. And maybe she was able. And maybe she wasn’t. And maybe these kids weren’t really all that bored by ballet. One of the things I’ve learned about social media is that most people present what they WANT THE WORLD TO SEE. It’s hard sometimes to remember that.

I was distraught because I was unable to do what this teacher did. I was unable to motivate these students. I had hit a dead end. I had this shortcoming that I couldn’t seem to fix. And I was very distressed.

Then one day I opened my email and there was a “friend request” from someone with whom I had gone to summer camp some 45 years ago. This was not an arts camp. This was your typical “sleep in a cabin, play baseball and go swim in a lake” summer camp. And I opened that friend request and I had a sort of epiphany.

Everything about that camp came flooding back. And one of the most vivid memories I had was how BORED I was by sports and how poorly I did athletically. I also remember a wonderful coach who loved baseball and worked so very hard to help me improve. I was bored. He worked harder…with even more enthusiasm. I was still bored. I hated baseball and I never improved. One day, by sheer luck, I had a game winning hit. Everyone cheered. And I was bored. I just couldn’t see what the fuss was about. And looking back on those years, all those years during my childhood when I was compelled to participate in athletics, I know in my heart of hearts that there is nothing anyone could have done to get me to love sports. I remember my mother saying: “People like to do what they are good at. If you would just work harder and get better then you would like baseball”. I’m sorry, mom, but I’ve loved ballet from the moment I placed my hand on the barre. No, actually, I’ve loved ballet since before I knew the barre existed.

At that moment I realized that we all love to do what we love to do. And there is no accounting for it. And I am now cutting myself a little slack. I am clearly never going to abandon my students who are bored by ballet, just like that wonderful coach in summer camp who never abandoned me. I will still do my best to inspire these kids (perhaps to no avail) and I will still look for new ideas to help reach them. These challenges are why I love what I do. But I will also be kind to myself when faced with roadblocks that I can’t seem to get around. And I will not go on social media and proclaim to have all the answers when I know that I don’t, because in the end that will only serve to undermine what I know I do have.

So twice a week I faced these students who were disinterested. Twice a week I did everything I could to bring them the joy that I get from ballet. And twice a week I watched these kids “take their required ballet class” (which we all know is not the same thing as studying ballet).

And then, one afternoon, “Julie’s” mother inquired about private lessons. It seems that Julie had decided to audition for some of the most competitive performing arts high schools in New York City. Julie doubled up her ballet classes at the studio, took a 90 minute private lesson with me every Saturday morning and her progress was staggering. After 9 months of this schedule she attended the auditions. In September, Julie will be attending a prestigious performing arts high school in a ballet focused program.

So to all of my colleagues facing these challenges; to all of my fellow teachers who have students that you can not seem to reach: please be kind to yourself. You may encounter these students that you can’t inspire but I would encourage you to keep searching for new ways, because it will only serve to make you a better teacher. And I implore you to not give up on these students, because there might be a “Julie” in your class for whom you unknowingly open a door.

THIS is why I do what I do.

The Joffrey Ballet School – A View From The Inside

This week one of my trainees at The Joffrey Ballet School asked me the following question:

“Mr. Bill, why does our school have such a bad reputation; why did my teacher at my home studio try to discourage me from joining the trainee program here?”

I have been aware of the perceptions that our industry has of my place of employment: my beloved Joffrey Ballet School. There was a scathing article some time ago that strongly criticized the Joffrey Ballet School. This article made the rounds of all the usual social media sites and due to my large social media presence, many people reached out to me for a comment. I chose to remain silent. I have always believed that the best way for one to respond to the “nay sayers” is simply by doing the excellent work that one does and letting the result speak for itself.

I have also, over the past few years, received messages from teachers that went something like this:

“One of my students who is not very advanced was accepted into the Joffrey Trainee program. This is really making me question as to whether I should be sending my talented and advanced students to audition for your program. It seems that Joffrey just accepts anybody.”

And again, I remained silent.

But now that the questions are coming from my STUDENTS, the young developing artists that have placed their careers in my hands, I can no longer remain silent.

The Joffrey Ballet School in New York City is unlike any other ballet school in the world. Our program has as its foundation solid Russian training based in the Vaganova Methodology. Our faculty members who teach these technique, pas de deux and variations classes are graduates of the Vaganova Academy and the Perm Academy, two of the most prestigious ballet schools in the world. But in addition to this foundational training, our program includes Balanchine style classes taught by a retired New York City Ballet soloist who worked and trained under Mr. Balanchine, Character Dance taught by a principal from the Moisseyev Company, Modern Dance taught by a choreographer with the Alvin Ailey Company, Flamenco taught by a former partner of Jose Greco, Jazz taught by a recognized expert and disciple of Luigi (😉), “American Style” ballet classes taught by former Joffrey Company members and many other faculty members who are simply brilliant teachers. We have a curriculum that will prepare BALLET dancers for ANYTHING that a professional company might ask of them. In addition, our dancers are trained in anatomy, health and wellness, nutrition, dance history, critical analysis and are offered choreographic opportunities. I do not know of any other BALLET trainee program that offers this broad of a curriculum.

With respect to the criteria for acceptance into the trainee program: the perception that “Joffrey accepts anyone” simply isn’t true.

WE HAVE A VERY DIFFERENT SET OF CRITERIA FOR ACCEPTANCE AND WE ARE RUNNING A VERY DIFFERENT TYPE OF SCHOOL, WITH DECIDEDLY DIFFERENT GOALS.

The typical preprofessional ballet programs are all looking for and competing for the same students. They are looking for the most accomplished young dancers with the best anatomical physiques. They are looking for the students that they will most likely be able to groom for high level ballet careers. I have a colleague who has taught at this kind of school (and we all know the schools to which I am referring). When I asked her what it was like teaching there her response was “it’s really not teaching…they are so good, and the level is so high. It is more like polishing and finishing”. And clearly these dancers need these programs to get them ready for their careers. One of our Joffrey students left our school to attend one of these schools…she confided in me, after one year, that the training she had received at Joffrey was better.

This is not the student that Joffrey is specifically looking for, nor is this the kind of training that Joffrey is doing (for the most part)…The Joffrey Ballet School has as its goal to simply TEACH ballet.

The Joffrey Ballet School does not accept students based on their body type. The Joffrey Ballet School does not accept students based on what they can DO at an audition. The Joffrey Ballet School accepts students based on the POTENTIAL that we see in them. And I believe that there is something very noble in that…because I was the student who would have NOT been accepted at one of those prestigious preprofessional programs. I was the student that was too old, too short, too broad, too inflexible to accept. I’m sorry that some studio director didn’t see in her “not very advanced student” what we saw. But the potential in a student, the discipline in a student, the desire, drive, the determination and the passion in a student is what we look for. And we take that student, whatever “level”, body type and age that they may be and we TEACH them. We teach them with care, with love, with passion and respect. And at the end of the four year program we put them through their paces at their final assessment (which, incidentally is open to the public). And it is at this assessment that the result of this training can be seen.

Now, I’m not going to tell you that “they are all brilliant” because clearly I’m biased. I’m simply going to tell you that somewhere in the range of 80% of our fourth year students secured professional contracts upon completing our program. Let the result speak for itself.

I will never forget the morning I opened my email to find a job offer from the Joffrey Ballet School. A Joffrey faculty member had taken an open class that I was teaching at a very small school and she made the recommendation. She saw something in me that no other preprofessional ballet school saw. She made that recommendation based on what I did in the classroom. She made that recommendation based in the quality of my teaching and not on a brilliant performing resume. And Joffrey listened. That day changed my life forever. And so I endeavor every day to change the lives of my students; to see the potential in them, to see the dancer that is somewhere at the core of that student. And every day I, and my brilliant colleagues, endeavor to reach and train that dancer. I am incredibly proud to be part of this school, the school that will accept a student based solely on their potential. A school that has as its goal to simply TEACH. And as I have said with respect to the “nay-sayers”:

If one simply keeps on doing the excellent work that one does, the result will speak for itself.