Audiences Were Dazzled

This past Sunday, some 70 local students from various schools including Ballet Academy, were privileged to perform with The Moscow Ballet in “The Great Russian Nutcracker”. 

Audiences were dazzled by this spectacular showpiece performed twice on Sunday at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center.

 This singular take on the classic tale includes unique characters and aspects such as “The Dove of Peace” (a striking, feather-winged acrobatic duo gliding across the stage with angelic-like poise)  and a large matryoshka (Russian nesting doll) gracing the stage.  These cultural and visionary additions, however, did not overshadow the traditional aspects and feel-good nature of this beloved ballet classic. This tasteful combination of new and old left audiences awestruck and full of all the “warm fuzzies” that accompany watching a performance of the “Nutcracker”.

A big “Thank You” and congratulations to all of our students and parents who participated in this rare and memorable event!  And great thanks goes to the Moscow Ballet for providing this unique opportunity to local students.  We are eagerly anticipating next years’ performance!

Q & A with Ms. Amanda Wingard

Ms. Amanda Wingard joined our school over the summer and teachers a number of classes, from Creative Movement to Adult.  Recently we asked her some questions about her dance background and teaching methodology.

 Q.  How long have you been dancing & teaching dance?
A.  I have been dancing since I was 3 years old. I started taking my training seriously when I began going to Ballet Academy of Charleston when I was 5 years old.
I started teaching classes in middle and high school at dance studios that I attended and continued teaching in different studios when I went off to college at the University of South Carolina to get my degree in Dance Education. I taught dance at Alston Middle School in Summerville for 3 years after graduating from college. Then I taught at the Charleston County School of the Arts for a year.
Q.  What do you enjoy about teaching?
A.  The things that I enjoy about teaching are watching my students improve before my eyes or seeing them connect the dots and understand concepts for the first time. It makes me think of life and how you need an outside perspective to truly understand all sides of life.  As a dance teacher, I get to have an outside perspective to my students to help them see things that they cannot see or understand on their own.
Q.  What is your methodology for teaching?
A. My methodology for teaching is to give slightly challenging classes. If I raise the bar for my students, they have room to grow and learn.
Q.  How have you enjoyed your experience so far at BAC?
A.  I have enjoyed my time at BAC so far. After teaching at the School of the Arts, I went about a year without teaching dance, which was very tough! I feel encouraged when I see people grow and improve, which is why I love teaching in any aspect. I especially love teaching the adult classes because they are so eager to learn and will always ask questions if they do not understand something. It’s been a pleasure teaching them!

10 Tips for Memorizing Choreography

We have all been there:  Struggling to memorize new choreography.  This happens for a number of reasons but let’s review some helpful tips, presented in no particular order, that may aid in the learning process.

1. Take it “one step at a time”.  “Chunking”, a term coined in cognitive science, refers to combining a few items that go together naturally.  In other words, taking the choreography one piece, or “chunk” at a time.  Often, instructors will teach this way; grouping the steps into “bite-size” pieces, reviewing them until the students feel they have it down, then adding on.  But, students can develop their own internal “chunking”, or memorization process, to help them learn the steps.  Additionally, you can use verbal or visual cues, whether it’s a word or phrase the teacher uses or something you come up with which you can relate easily to the movement.

2. Notes & Diagrams.  If you still find you are having difficulty committing the steps to memory you can try this technique:  Write the steps down in order, using words or phrases which make sense to you (or those given by the instructor), or even drawing diagrams using stick figures (you don’t have to be an artist!).  Multiple studies have proven that writing something down, as opposed to just trying to memorize it or even typing it, aids in memory retention and learning.  So, pick up that old-fashioned pen and paper and get to work!

3. Mini-Marking.  Going over the steps repeatedly in your head can be helpful, but involving a certain level of muscle memory can increase the effectiveness of these mental reviews.  If you’re wondering what “mini-marking” is then just recall the last time a teacher gave a combination or a bit of choreography.  Were you just standing by idly watching or were you mimicking the movement with either your hands or feet as you watched closely?  Likely, you were doing the latter.  The beauty of mini-marking is that it can be done anywhere and at any time:  at home, in the car or even while you’re waiting in line at the store!  Additionally, there is a theory called, “the mirror neuron theory”, which states that our brain cells respond equally to performing an action ourselves as they do when we watch another perform it.  So, watching and marking at the same time could theoretically double your intake rate, right?

4. Practice makes perfect. Repeating the steps, again and again, is obviously the most effective method.  Start by doing the steps slowly until you have them down and then gradually pick up the pace, eventually practicing with the music.  Music has become very accessible and can be downloaded in seconds.  You can even ask the instructor for the precise name and version of the music they’re using.  If you practice with the intended score, you will be more likely to be practicing the timing correctly.  And once you’ve begun practicing, don’t stop when you feel you’ve gotten it right, but keep going until you can’t get it wrong.

5. Play games.  Whether you generally have issues with memory, or it’s choreography specific, memory aid games can help your overall memory to improve and teach you to think “on your toes”!

6. Be in the moment.  This is an important one.  We all have a lot on our minds and can often allow our minds to wander during class or even when the teacher is giving instruction or choreography.  Don’t do this!  It’s very important that you be mentally “present” and focus on what is happening at the moment, minimizing all distractions.

7. Ask for help!  It may seem obvious, but many of us are too embarrassed to ask for help or clarification on a step or count we find difficult or confusing.  If you are too shy to do this during a rehearsal or class, (or the timing is inappropriate), you can ask the instructor afterward or even a friend who already has the movement down.  Adding to this, you can always invite a friend to practice with you! The social connection you feel along with the immediate feedback you get from a friend (who may know a step better than you) can go a long way in improving your understanding of the steps.  A famous proverb states:   “As iron sharpens iron; so one person sharpens the face of another.”  The point being that we can help each other to improve using our unique abilities, so why not take advantage of such an opportunity?

8. Focus on the music.  Sometimes I find that I’m getting too caught up in the choreography and am missing the connection between the choreography and the music.  Most choreography is very musical; meaning it complements or harmonizes with the music.  Sometimes just taking a moment to observe the connection between the two can help clear up any confusion you may have about when to do a step-because the music tells you!

9. Don’t linger over a moment.  If you’re getting stuck on one or two particularly difficult parts, don’t allow these to become your focal point.  Imagine a driver who centers their attention on only one thing on the road:   How would their driving fair?  Would they make much progress?  Often the approach of taking the choreography in as a whole can help clear up any trouble spots you’re struggling with.  For the time, just allow that to be a “problem area” and focus on getting the rest of the choreography down.  You can return to the problem area later.  You may find that after class when you have more time to work on it in a relaxed environment, or even after a good night’s sleep (oh so important!) that something just “clicks”.  If this does not happen, however, don’t despair!  Refer to tip number 7.

10. Tackle the feet first.  Your feet being what propel you across the floor, they are generally considered the “more important” part of the dancing process.  Of course, both the upper and lower body in dance is critical, including épaulement and facial expressions.  But when we are learning something new it can be helpful to apply the “chunking” principle to our bodies:  focus on one part at a time.  Once you have one part down, you can add from there.

These are just a few suggestions you can try out.  The process of learning choreography is very individual, so just try some of these and find what works best for you.  And remember to try to relax!  The more anxious you feel, the more difficult it will be.  Merde!

 

Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker

Last month, for the fourth consecutive year, Ballet Academy hosted an open audition for the Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker”!

Ballet Academy is privileged to be the official host studio for this prestigious ballet company and to assist in bringing to Charleston area families this extraordinary, heartwarming performance.

On August 26th 2018, Ballet Academy welcomed 82 dancers, 6- 17 years old from various local dance studios to their ballet school in West Ashley. Each had an opportunity to audition in front of Ms. Maria Morari, current audition director and professional ballerina with the Moscow Ballet. Formerly with The National Theatre for Ballet and Opera in Chisinau, Moldova, and with experience in touring worldwide, Ms. Morari joined the Moscow Ballet’s North American touring company in 2017. With an additional background in gymnastics and teaching, she counts it a privilege to share her love of movement and artistry with young, aspiring dancers.

Some of the roles for which these young dancers auditioned were Mice, Party Kids, Snow Maidens and Snow Sprites, as well as some ACT II Variations.
This unique opportunity of auditioning, rehearsing and performing with an internationally acclaimed, professional ballet company is made possible to children all over the continent thanks to the “Dance with Us” program, conceptualized and underwritten solely by The Moscow Ballet.

Not only is this a marvelous opportunity for young, local performers, but is a must-see performance for all others! To sum this up, consider the words of Ballet Academy owner and director, Corina Fimian:

“The charm and artistry, together with the athletic ability of the dancers through sound technique, is unmatched. From the dancers to the sets, the entire performance is an unending and stunning display for the aesthetic senses. It is difficult to know where to look! If you have not yet experienced it, I highly recommend it as a wholesome and memorable holiday activity for the entire family.”

To purchase tickets for this event, please visit www.nutcracker.com/buy-tickets.

Master Class with Elena Pedan

A master class taught by Elena Pedan, soloist with the Moscow Ballet, was held at our BAC studio on October 9, 2017.

Elena is also the Auditions Director for “The Great Russian Nutcracker”, and was here in Charleston conducting the audition for the 2017 production held at our studio in West Ashley the previous Saturday.  A production in which many of our own students will take a part on December 9, 2017 at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center. *

Ms. Pedan was born in Dnipropretrovsk, Ukraine.  Realizing her love of the stage through winning a school beauty contest, she began studying ballet at the age of 9 at the Dnepropetrovsk Academic Opera and Ballet Theater.  After graduating in 2006, she entered the Dnepropetrovsk Theater and Art College where she studied for 4 years.  She later received a Master’s Degree with the International Slavic University at the Faculty of Choreography and Directing while dancing professionally with the dance company associated with the school of her youth.  Elena also has taught at this same studio where she originally began her training and career.  This year marks her first traveling with the Moscow Ballet throughout America in the unique capacity as Soloist and Auditions Director.  Additionally, Ms. Pedan tours internationally as a guest artist with ballet companies in Europe and Asia.

Our students, as well as some visiting students, were thrilled to experience this rare opportunity to benefit from Ms. Pedan’s knowledge and experience.  Ms. Pedan’s class was challenging yet interesting.  This is just one of many master classes we offer throughout the year to students in the area.  We are thankful to Ms. Pedan and wholeheartedly look forward to her coming again!

*For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit their website at http://www.nutcracker.com/your-city/get-tickets/north-charleston

OR

https://www.groupon.com/browse/charleston?lat=32.7766&lng=-79.9309&address=Charleston&query=moscow+ballet&locale=en_US

What is PBT?

PBT stands for Progressing Ballet Technique.

PBT is an innovative program designed to train dancers in muscle memory to improve technique, flexibility and longevity in dance, while gaining a greater awareness of their muscles and how to use them properly to achieve their goals in ballet.

Its original creator, Marie Walton-Mahon, is formerly of the Les Ballet de Marseilles, and since ending her own career has pursued teaching in her home country of Australia with great success and celebrity.  Seeing the need for an increased understanding of body mechanics and proprioception (awareness of one’s body spatially) in students, and feeling inspired by the immediate feedback of an unstable surface as found in a stability ball, Ms. Walton-Mahon began experimenting with various exercises on her students with demonstrable success.  Finally, in 2004 PBT was born!  She has since grown this technique into a veritable empire, spreading her knowledge through workshops held worldwide and a significant online reach.

Megan Berlint-Nicko is the Owner/Director of PBT U.S.®.  A former professional ballet and jazz dancer, trained in the Ceccechetti method, Ms. Berlint-Nicko began her teaching career at age fifteen.   She has obtained several teaching certificates, shaping her focus on training strong, healthy dancers.  Fascinated by how PBT can improve not only a dancer’s technique but contributes to their safe training and increased longevity, Ms. Berlint-Nicko began studying this method on her own.  Seeing its impact on her own body and accessing muscles she had not fully utilized even during her own dance career, she recognized the need to train young dancers from an early age to prevent injury.  After months of personal study, she traveled to Australia to train directly with Marie Walton-Mahon and was then granted the rights to brand PBT in the U.S.  She currently holds teacher workshops all over the U.S. and Canada.

Ms. Berlint-Nicko visited Charleston last month and trained two of our instructors, as well as our studio owner in this revolutionary method.  The workshop was held in our BAC studio and was one and half days of intense, yet fun, work!  Everyone who participated agrees that they came out with a greater understanding how to train students to achieve their best in ballet.

Ballet Academy of Charleston is the first and only studio in Charleston to receive this certification and licensure.  In addition to offering full PBT classes, we will soon include some of the exercises in our regular ballet classes in order to expose our students to the benefits of this incredible technique.  Furthermore, we hope to share this method with all students in the area who chose to take this class with us!

For more information:

http://www.pbtus.com/about

https://pbt.dance

Interview with Ms. Jessica on Bolshoi Teacher Certification

Ms. Jessica Lighthart just obtained her second certification with the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. Recently, we conducted a Q&A with her to learn more about her experience.

Q: What made you choose to obtain the Bolshoi certificate?

A: “ I chose the Bolshoi Ballet Academy (BBA) Teacher Certification Program (TCP) because our focus at Ballet Academy of Charleston is on the Russian style. The BBA curriculum is known around the world for their focus on strength, musicality, and classical technique. There is something so pure and beautiful about it. It was a no brainer for me – I wanted to learn more!”

Q: What is the difference between the Vaganova and Bolshoi techniques styles?

A: “The Vaganova Method is the foundation for the BBA curriculum. BBA grew and expanded from it, therefore becoming it’s own style focusing on individual progress.”

Q: Where did you go for the training and how long did it take?

A: “The training takes place in NYC, and is a very intensive, week-long program.”

Q: How is the curriculum (BBA teacher’s cert) taught?

A: “We spend half of the day in the classroom (taking LOTS of notes!), and the other half in the studio.”

Q: How is it altered (if at all) for American pupils?

A: “The curriculum we learn is the same which is taught at the Bolshoi Academy in Russia. BBA teachers from Moscow teach the entire program. It is all in Russian, but we have a translator.”

Q: You also obtained a level A Cert a couple years ago. How does the B compare?

A: “Last year, I completed the Level A certification, which is for years 1-3 at the BBA. This summer I completed Level B, which is years 4 and 5. Next year, I am hoping to complete my Level C certification, which is years 6-8. It obviously gets harder each year as the levels become more advanced.”

Q: How have you implemented what you learned in your teaching and with what effect on your students?

A: “I have been applying my new knowledge in every class that I teach. It has really made me focus more on the process of how and why we teach something. I can really tell a difference with my students!”

Does practice always make perfect?

We’re all familiar with the adage, “Practice makes perfect.”  But does it always?  Consider this quote by American scholar, Hamza Yusuf:  “Practice makes permanent, not perfect.  If you practice the wrong thing, you make the wrong act permanent.”  In other words, practice instills within us a permanent habit, for good or for bad.  It’s how we practice which largely affects how successful we will be, not merely the number of hours or repetitions spent on a given task.

The point is not that practice is unimportant, but that only when done correctly, can it lead to the results we desire. If you are attempting to drive a car forward while the gear shift is set in reverse and hit the gas 100 times, will the car eventually move forward?  The answer is obvious.  The point being, if you practice something incorrectly, you will learn it and perform it…You guessed it…incorrectly!  

So, how does one make sure they are practicing correctly?  The online education platform, TED-Ed states, “Effective practice is consistent, intensely focused and targets content or weaknesses that lie at the edge of one’s current abilities.”  They offer the following suggestions:

  1. Focus on the task at hand and minimize distractions.  Avoid daydreaming or talking in class and listen to your teacher, even when the instruction seems unrelated to you.
  2. Start out slowly.  Coordination is built with repetitions. If you gradually increase the speed of quality repetitions, you have a better chance of doing them correctly.  When learning a new exercise, practice it carefully and slowly under the watchful eye of your teacher, being sure to do it correctly before you increase your speed!  This is especially crucial in dance, since performing certain movements improperly can result in injury.
  3. Be balanced.  Frequent repetitions with allotted breaks are common practice habits of elite performers.  Many top athletes, musicians and dancers spend 50-60 hours per week on activities related to their craft.  Many divide their time into multiple daily practice sessions of limited duration.  Short practice sessions daily in between your weekly lessons can be immensely beneficial and will train your brain and body to treat the movement as second nature.
  4. Practice in your brain in vivid detail.  A number of studies suggest that once a physical motion has been established, it can be reinforced just by imagining it.  So, even when you can’t practice the steps with your body, you can “practice” them in your head!

In addition, a student may come to feel that their regular classes and at-home practice sessions are not quite enough to help them achieve the increased “edge” they are looking for.  Or they may be dealing with a discipline or movement which is particularly challenging for them.  If this is the case, a student should first approach their teacher and politely request specific feedback or exercises they can do on their own.  They may also consider speaking to their parents and teacher about additional classes and private lessons as a supplement to their training.  

Lastly, don’t expect perfection!  Sure, you want to try your best, but beating yourself up over a perceived flaw is neither productive or healthy.  

The conclusion?  Listen to your teacher, accept the correction and implement it to the best of your ability.  Practice as “perfectly” as you can, and the result will be a beautiful, healthy dancer, permanently.

 

Master Class with Michelle Ramos

On March 31, advanced students from the Greater Charleston Area were treated to a fantastic master class with Michelle Ramos!  The class was challenging , both physically and mentally and the students thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Ramos’ enthusiasm in teaching. Click here for more information about Michelle Ramos.