DT caught Xiomara Reyes in early October, just a few weeks into her new job as head of The Washington School of Ballet in Washington, DC. The former American Ballet Theatre principal dancer had recently relocated from New York City with her husband Rinat Imaev, and immediately begun working long days and nights in an effort to get to know the institution better.

Asked about her future plans, she graciously admitted that she had yet to see how the budget might allow for certain changes and was still a few days away from the first meeting of the board. She was already formulating plans, though, likening the experience of learning on the job to getting comfortable with a new ballet. "Right now, I see a problem, and I just try to solve it," she says. "But I look forward to the moment when I can begin to walk through it, and maybe a year from now, when I have learned more, I will eventually have more control over all of the steps."



Xiomara Reyes is the new head of The Washington School of Ballet. Enrollment: nearly 1,900. Photo by Jim Lafferty

Two months after Septime Webre announced in early 2016 that he would be resigning as artistic director of The Washington Ballet, a press release announced the near-simultaneous departure of longtime school director Kee Juan Han. Though one event had nothing to do with the other—Han had, in fact, given his resignation to the board weeks before Webre, out of a desire to return to his native Singapore—the outcome was nonetheless the same: The new director of TWB, Julie Kent, would need a new school director to oversee two busy locations, a trainee company and various community outreach programs, come fall. Reyes, with her mix of Vaganova and Cuban-style backgrounds, exemplifies the classical style of ballet Kent is after for the school, and Reyes' nurturing personality dovetails with TWSB's mission of shaping young lives through the practice of performing art.

"I had seen Xiomara work with children at IBStage summer program," says Kent. "I saw her commitment, how moved she was when the students made progress. And when we were teaching together, I could tell we felt similarly about how impactful the study of a classical art can be on young lives."

Reyes' instincts have developed out of a prestigious ballet pedigree. She grew up in Cuba, training at the Cuban National Ballet School and performing with Joven Guardia de Cuba under Alicia Alonso's daughter Laura Alonso. "I was influenced by very strong, loving teachers who felt the passion for dance, like Laura Alonso," says Reyes. "She worked extremely hard but had such a charismatic personality. I was glued to her. She was demanding, but you wanted to do it, and there was a feeling of wonder always that has shaped the way I teach."

As Kitri in American BalletTheatre's Don Quixote.

Reyes eventually performed as a soloist with the National Ballet of Cuba and won several awards at International Ballet Competitions in Luxembourg and Peru and IBC Varna before moving on to the Royal Ballet of Flanders, where she first met her husband, and American Ballet Theatre, where she danced for 14 years and made a name for herself in expressive roles, such as Giselle and Swanilda. "Everybody tries to follow her when she is teaching, because she can show the movement alive and how it is supposed to be danced," says Imaev of Reyes, noting how her approach in the front of the room mirrors her gifts as a dancer and storyteller. "It is not just an exercise for her. She insists on positions and musicality, asks for every moment to mean something."


Performing the title role in Giselle


Imaev has also joined TWSB as senior faculty and company teacher and will focus on developing the trainees and upper levels of the school. With a joint background that spans both Vaganova and Cuban training methods, as well as classical and contemporary ballet repertory, Reyes and Imaev are also well-versed in the extreme positions, turnout, delicate port de bras and core strength required of dancers today.

Kent had a long list of reasons for appointing Reyes to help her manage the school, beyond the trust that developed between them over years spent sharing roles at American Ballet Theatre and as friends. Her humble and hardworking temperament—Reyes is known in the professional ballet world as anything but a diva—balances the strict demands of ballet training with the kind of humanity and nurturing care young dancers need to become both successful artists and respectable citizens.
"I am not a mother, but somehow that maternal instinct is there," Reyes says. "I am there to give boundaries but with a loving touch. I love kids and want them to do better, and I hope they can feel that from me."


With a faculty of 40 and staff of 11, Reyesmanages campuses in Northwest DC, Southwest DC and The Joe, which houses adult classes. Photo by Jim Lafferty

1

Both Reyes and Kent also have a desire to foster a closer relationship between the school and the company, from pre-ballet to the stage, and to continue shaping lives in the DC area in the tradition of school co-founder Mary Day. "I knew that I could express to Xiomara and Rinat the very particular circumstance we have here as a school with a 75-year history," says Kent. "The role of the ballet school is important in the lives of these dancers, less so as a career vehicle and more so in shaping lives, and we want their hours here to be beneficial and supportive."

And for those on the career track? Reyes sees the closer relationship as a chance to provide valuable role models in addition to pre-professional training and performance opportunities. "When I was in school, I could look up to my idols in the company," says Reyes. "It is important for aspiring professionals to have a person in front of them who is walking that path, a person to idolize and a path to follow."

As she settles in to her new post in the nation's capital, Reyes is not looking to emulate any particular school. "I just want to be as creative as I can," she explains, feeling unfettered from strict adherence to any one ballet tradition. "If you try to follow a model too much, you miss out on an opportunity that this particular place has to offer and develop."


Photo by Jim Lafferty

But as she ponders the future in general, her tone is at once more urgent and impassioned. "While alignment and core strength are really important, I also think how you educate young dancers to not only be good at their craft, but good people in general, who can find happiness in their own little bodies and also be happy for the successes of others, is important," she says. "I want to stand for being a good human, and given the world right now, I take that mission very seriously."

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Via Instagram

Happy Father's Day to all of the dance dads in the world! Whether you're professional dancers, dance teachers, dance directors or simply just dance supporters, you are a key ingredient to what makes the dance world such a happy, thriving place, and we love you!

To celebrate, here are our four favorite Instagram dance dads. Prepare to say "Awwwwwwwweeeeeee!!!!!!"

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're a studio owner, the thought of raising your rates most likely makes you cringe. Despite ever-increasing overhead expenses you can't avoid—rent, salaries, insurance—you're probably wary of alienating your customers, losing students or inviting confrontation if you increase the price of your tuition or registration and recital fees. DT spoke with three veteran studio owners who suggest it's time to get past that. Here's how to give your business the revenue boost it needs and the value justification it (and you) deserve.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Margie Gillis (left); photo by Kyle Froman

Margie Gillis dances the human experience. Undulating naked in a field of billowing grass in Lessons from Nature 4, or whirling in a sweep of lilac fabric in her signature work Slipstream, her movement is free of flashy technique and tricks, but driven and defined by emotion. "There's a central philosophy in my work about what the experience of being human is," says Gillis, whose movement style is an alchemy of Isadora Duncan's uninhibited self-expression and Paul Taylor's musicality, blended with elements of dance theater into something utterly unique and immediately accessible. "I want an authenticity," she says. "I want to touch my audiences profoundly and deeply."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Teaching arabesque can be a challenge for educators and students alike. Differences in body types, flexibility and strength can leave dancers feeling dejected about the possibility of improving this essential position.

To help each of us in our quest for establishing beautiful arabesques in our students without bringing them to tears, we caught up with University of Utah ballet teacher Jennie Creer-King. After her professional career dancing with Ballet West and Oregon Ballet Theater and her years of teaching at the studio and college levels, she's become a bit of an arabesque expert.

Here she shares five important tips for increasing the height of your students' arabesques.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Jennifer Kleinman, courtesy of Danell Hathaway

It's high school dance concert season, which means a lot of you K–12 teachers are likely feeling a bit overwhelmed. The long nights of editing music, rounding up costumes and printing programs are upon you, and we salute you. You do great work, and if you just hang on a little while longer, you'll be able to bathe in the applause that comes after the final Saturday night curtain.

To give you a bit of inspiration for your upcoming performances, we talked with Olympus High School dance teacher Danell Hathaway, who just wrapped her school's latest dance company concert. The Salt Lake City–based K–12 teacher shares her six pieces of advice for knocking your show out of the park.

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: I'm looking to create some summer rituals and traditions at my studio. What are some of the things you do?

A: Creating fun and engaging moments for your students, staff and families can have a positive impact on your studio culture. Whether it's a big event or a small gesture, we've found that traditions build connection, boost morale and create strong bonds. I reached out to a variety of studio owners to gather some ideas for you to try this summer. Here's what they had to say.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Sam Williams and Jaxon Willard after competition at RADIX. Photo courtesy of Williams

Self-choreographed solos are becoming increasingly popular on the competition circuit these days, leading dance teachers to incorporate more creative mentoring into their rehearsal and class schedules. In this new world of developing both technical training and choreographic prowess, finding the right balance of assisting without totally hijacking a student's choreographic process can be difficult.

To help, we caught up with a teacher who's already braved these waters by assisting "World of Dance" phenom Jaxon Willard with his viral audition solos. Center Stage Performing Arts Studio company director Sam Williams from Orem, Utah, shares her sage wisdom below.

Check it out!

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Dance studios are run by creative people with busy schedules, who have a love-hate relationship with props and sequins. The results of all this glitter and glam? General mass chaos in every drawer, costume closet and prop corner of the studio. Let's be honest, not many dance teachers are particularly known for their tidiness. The ability to get 21 dancers to spot in total synchronization? Absolutely! The stamina to run 10 solos, 5 group numbers, 2 ballet classes and 1 jazz class in one day? Of course! The emotional maturity to navigate a minefield of angry parents and hormonal teenagers? You know it!

Keeping the studio tidy? Well...that's another story.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox