Walnut Hill School for the Arts Partners with Ballet Austin

Walnut Hill students in the Spring Repertory 2014 concert

Beginning in fall 2015, as many as 15 Walnut Hill seniors will enter a yearlong fellowship with Ballet Austin. The Butler Fellowship Program is a partnership between the arts boarding school in Natick, Massachusetts, and the dance company in Texas. The students will reside in Austin, where they’ll have the chance to rehearse and perform with the main and apprentice companies and earn college credit.

“Many students don’t want to come to Walnut Hill because we don’t have a connection with a company,” says Michael Owen, director of the school’s dance division. “Now our students can go out and take that next step, from high-quality training to a real pre-professional life dancing from 9 to 6 every day, seeing if they’re cut out for it.”

Ballet Austin associate artistic director Michelle Martin traveled to Walnut Hill in October to teach a series of master classes, and plans are in the works for the boarding school’s students to take a trip to Austin over spring break, to take class and observe rehearsals.

Walnut Hill also recently announced a partnership with The Boston Conservatory, enabling select students to graduate from BoCo with a dance BFA in three years.






Photo by Liza Voll, courtesy of Walnut Hill

Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

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"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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