Watching through the studio windows—or even from the sidelines in a Mommy and Me class—can surely make parents wonder what exactly our little tykes are getting out of weekly ballet lessons. After all, they're repeating the same things class after class. Are they bored? Are they progressing? Why are they doing that again?
Q: My tween is begging me to go to a faraway summer intensive, claiming "all my friends are going." How do I know if she's ready?
A: It can feel like a rite of passage for serious dancers to attend an intensive at a major ballet school. They dance all day and often explore the area's surroundings or attend performances on weekends. But living away from home, having a roommate and living the "dorm life" can be a challenge.
Curtis (center) with Jason Parsons and Lauren Adams. "I've asked why guest artists keep coming back, and they tell me they get a lot from my students," says Curtis. Photo by Jennifer Robertson
Christy Curtis had been teaching advanced-level jazz in the Raleigh, North Carolina, area for nearly 20 years when she decided to open her own studio. After careful consideration, the five-foot dynamo took a leap and, in 2005, opened CC & Co. Dance Complex. In the first year, Curtis enrolled about 75 students—the majority of whom were advanced dancers—and as her fledgling business grew to include preschool, elementary and high school classes in all styles, she looked to others for guidance. She hired a business manager and often picked the brains of close friends and mentors. "The best advice I've received," she says, "is that if you're not the best at something, find someone who is and ask for help."
Studio Bleu owner Kimberly Rishi observes Troy Brown's ballet class. Photo by Rachel Papo
"I describe it as organized chaos," says Kimberly Rishi with a laugh, as she hunts for a quiet space inside her 12,000-square-foot studio in Ashburn, Virginia. In any given week, Studio Bleu Dance Center's 11 dance studios accommodate 800 enrolled students, 52 staff members, adults who take drop-in classes, plus kids in vocal and piano programs and an affiliated ballet conservatory. "It may look like there's always a party going on," Rishi says, "but that's not the case. There's a schedule, and everyone knows where they're headed."
When Rishi took the reins in 2003, there were only 80 students, 20 of whom were competitive. Today, 300 dancers are enrolled for the competition program. And just this winter, she launched a musical theater program, taking in triple-threat hopefuls in the area. While the Ashburn area (outside of Washington, DC) is burgeoning, faculty member Heidi Moe says Studio Bleu's growth is due to more than changing demographics. It's the direct result of Rishi's business experience and leadership ability.
In 2015, Rodgers collaborated with choreographers Kristin Fieseler Alexander, of Annex Dance, and Jonathan Tabbort and Stephen Gabriel, of Ballet Evolution Charleston, for a physically integrated performance. From left: Cathy Cabaniss, Julie DeLizza, Rodgers. Photo by Adam Chandler Photography, courtesy of Rodgers
Life changed for Marka Danielle Rodgers four years ago when a driver ran a red light and T-boned her car. The crash left her an incomplete quadriplegic (meaning she still has some nerve function below the point of injury), but it hasn't stopped her from teaching ballet. Now, she leads class from her wheelchair, using hand and arm motions to explain each combination. She talks through corrections and verbalizes even the tiny technical details that are often just easily shown. When she does leave her chair, she leads floor barre–like exercises on the ground. Then she gets back in her chair.
Rodgers, who worked with Ailey II in the late 1970s, has regained much mobility and strength in her arms and upper torso since the accident. In addition to teaching ballet at several dance studios in the Charleston, South Carolina, area, she leads a total-body strengthening and wellness regimen she calls Ultimate Physicality. And while teaching from a wheelchair poses quite a few limitations, in some ways, those limitations have enhanced her teaching.
"I hate the word 'skinny.' As a dancer, you're an athlete." —Caroline Lewis-Jones. Photo courtesy of Adrenaline Dance Convention
“My mom is always the story I lead with," says Caroline Lewis-Jones about her relationship to health and wellness. “She was sick my entire life, and I'd do anything to have her back." A certified health coach who teaches for Adrenaline Dance Convention, Lewis-Jones is passionate about training healthy, mindful dancers. And while it might seem rare to witness a nutrition course during a jam-packed convention weekend, Lewis-Jones always finds a way. She incorporates wellness into her workshops and master classes on the circuit, empowering young dancers to take control of their bodies—and what they put into them.
A Columbia, South Carolina, native, Lewis-Jones trained with Nancy Giles at The Southern Strutt. After high school, Lewis-Jones headed to New York to attend Marymount Manhattan College as a communications major, and, while in the city, performed with Jason Parsons and Mia Michaels' RAW, as well as in music videos for Madonna and *NSYNC. But after five successful years in NYC, Lewis-Jones moved back home in 2004. “My mom had been sick with breast cancer, and I didn't have a good feeling about her prognosis this time," she says. “She died a year later, and I haven't left."