“It's about the steps, but it's also about the style and the performance quality," says Dede Albers, character dance teacher at The Dance Center of Oklahoma City Ballet. “What I think character dance does for young students is enhance their performing." Because her 11- to 16-year-old students get to perform in Oklahoma City Ballet productions like Giselle and The Sleeping Beauty, Albers teaches them the dances they'll encounter in classical ballets: mazurkas, polonaises, czardas, tarantellas, Spanish jota and Russian dances.
Albers studied character dance at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow as a Fulbright grant recipient. Her class is modeled on the Russian format, which has many similarities to a traditional ballet class. She begins with a barre with pliés, tendus, dégagés and ronds de jambe. In the center, students work on adagio, port de bras in different styles and heelwork—digs, stomps and clicks with the hard heels of their character shoes. She likes to conclude the hour-long class with at least 20 minutes of across-the-floor so that students get comfortable with traveling. “It's important for them to really dance!" she says.
Like the class structure, many of the technical concepts Albers works on are similar to ballet as well. “It still involves the placement that they're working on in ballet, but there's more parallel work with the feet and differences with the head and arms. We're not trying for an ethereal quality. It's more connected to the earth," she explains. “At the same time, I'm expecting them to be turned out when they're supposed to be, and to point their feet, even in their character shoes."