Ballet Central New Jersey
BalletCNJ’s 4-week Summer Intensive always pushes students of all ages to drastically improve their dance skills, learn something new and perform at a higher level. The intensive program combines jazz, modern dance, and character in addition to daily classical ballet, men’s, pas de deux and pointe classes. With the students in attendance this year, school founding directors Alexander Dutko and Thiago Silva, as well modern dance instructor Margaret Shue and guest teacher Edgar Clausse (Formerly of Complexions), taught classes and choreography, and led rehearsals culminating in an elegant, stylistic performance on August 26, 2017.
Additional opportunities presented to students during the summer intensive included seminars by experienced ballet dancers (which, over the years, have included topics such as stage makeup and career planning). Furthermore, students learn stretching and strengthening techniques in a customized conditioning class several times a week, and even get to experience hip hop and Yoga classes on occasion. Finally, students are offered services such as head shots and dance photo sessions, allowing them to add these to their resume. Each performance is recorded on video and can thus be used for students to critique their own dancing, or simply for the family’s enjoyment of reliving a student’s moment in the spotlight!
The show at the end of the 2017 Summer Intensive had a classical feel, with students in simple and clean attire (as opposed to costumes), and performing favorites from a plethora of ballets. These included the mazurka from Coppelia, excerpts from Giselle Act 1, the pas de trois from Le Corsaire, and dances of the Precious Stones and the Bluebird Pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty. Additionally, brand new choreography from the founders and teachers of BalletCNJ was featured in a contemporary ballet piece and a jazz number. Following enthusiastic applause from the audience at the end of the performance, Director Alexander Dutko expressed his pride with the students, and presented awards to the dancers who stood out throughout the intensive (including an award of encouragement to Rebecca Zou and a scholarship to next year’s summer intensive to Iris Foster). BalletCNJ’s constant focus on putting students first, pushing dancers to perform at their best, and rewarding exceptional effort shone through in the results that the students achieved at the performance.
Congratulations to BalletCNJ and all the students who completed the 2017 Summer Intensive!
In addition to the main summer intensive, BalletCNJ also offers a young dancer intensive for students under 12 years of age (although some students under the age of 12 can enroll in the regular intensive at Mr. Dutko/Silva’s discretion), and continues to offer open/adult ballet classes throughout the summer.
BalletCNJ will be hosting an Open House on September 9, 2017 from 11:00AM until 4:00PM (an excellent opportunity to have registration fees for enrollment waived!)
By- Ina Nikolaeva
Another incredible performance by BalletCNJ!
On June 10, 2017, at Villa Victoria Academy Theatre in Ewing, NJ, BalletCNJ did it again – the school put on a fun, dramatic and breathtaking performance, featuring completely original works and choreography by the two school founders, Alexander Dutko and Thiago Silva. The show consisted of three distinct acts and pushed every student to dance a role suited to their skills that also challenged and further developed him/her as a performer.
The first piece featured the school's youngest dancers in a novel piece entitled “Le Petit Pique-Nique”. With an enchanting backdrop of a sunny lake in a forest that changed from a perfect day to a thunderstorm with some clever lighting, this piece told the story of six adventurous picnickers who encountered bees (Nina Rodriguez and Isabella Wilf), a butterfly (Emalea Kiernan), and an army of ants intent upon stealing watermelon slices hidden in the main characters' basket of goodies (BalletCNJ's youngest dancers). This act created magic using drama and humor, giving the audience the intimate opportunity to meet new characters that have never been danced before. One of the most remarkable aspects was Emalea Kiernan, who, at a young age, executed the part of the butterfly en pointe with grace and flourish. This act truly showcased the entire school’s intense focus on artistry and creativity.
The second act, “Gershwin Suite”, featured some of the most experienced students at BalletCNJ, and relied solely on lighting, Gershwin’s iconic music, and the skill of the dancers to create atmosphere and intrigue. It succeeded beautifully. Amid an energetic group dance, Jeanette Smith and Leopold Foster told the story of a couple unsure of and surprised at their budding romantic feelings for each other through an extended pas de deux. The two leads were astonishing: they were exhilarating to watch, not only because they were both very impressive for their age (both only 14), but because they were well on their way to becoming full-fledged dancers who can command the stage completely by themselves. Such a piece could only be made possible through the abilities of the dancers, and it let them shine despite the challenging music and the classically bare stage (with no scenery to hide behind).
The final ballet - Aladdin: The Wedding Act - was positively magical. The scenery recreated the main ballroom of an elaborate Arabian palace, and the wedding guests filed in group by group to perform their finest dances in front of a stern, yet benevolent, Sultan. From the bridesmaids, palace dancers, swordsmen, and jewels to an undulating snake (Michelle DeAngelis) and an exotic bird (Krista Pinkerton), the dancers and special effects created a sparkling, glittering kingdom against a starry sky background. When Aladdin (Gabriel DeRego) and the Princess (Rebecca Huizer) appeared on stage, everything paused – and you could feel the importance of the moment for them. Following a brief ceremony, they sat back to watch their guests entertain, before performing a beautifully executed pas de deux of their own. This act took advantage of sophisticated and technologically advanced prop work (the Genie, Jefferson Konah, emerged from his lamp in a cloud of illuminated smoke to request his release from the shackles of servitude, and the magic carpet made several guest appearances by flying around in the background).
As is customary at BalletCNJ, the costumes, props and backdrops were almost entirely hand-made by the founders and other dedicated volunteer helpers, demonstrating the overall familial atmosphere of the school and the caring and hard work that goes into every one of their shows. Additionally, this choice allows each performance to stand out, avoiding a formulaic appearance for the characters. In other words, every piece is unique and you cannot see it anywhere else. As always, the dancers were fully prepared, and performed every dance with skill and enthusiasm. Fellow audience members, who had never previously attended a BalletCNJ show, were astounded at the intricacy of the choreography, storylines and scenery, and - of course – at the proficiency of the dancers themselves.
The BalletCNJ family have outdone themselves yet again, and we cannot wait to see what they come up with next!
- By INA NIKOLAEVA, PhD (CT)
As adults, we are expected to do our full-time jobs and still find time to exercise and stay healthy. This task is made much easier if we come across a physical activity we enjoy and are passionate about. With a multitude of exercise programs currently available, and more emerging every day, it is difficult to decide which fitness classes to try out. I attended a beginner ballet dance class, taught by BalletCNJ School Director Thiago Silva during Free Week at Rutgers in the Fall of 2013. I also tried several other classes ranging from barbell weight training to yoga and Pilates. I was instantly hooked on ballet, as were quite a few of the other students present. It probably helped, too, that the instructor was an incredibly energetic young man who came up with hilarious, and therefore memorable, metaphors for the various steps. I am now in my 3rd year of recreational ballet training, and I want to share some of the things I learned from spending so much of my personal time at the dance studios of Ballet Central New Jersey.
Hard work leads inevitably to improvement
As with any class that requires physical or mental effort, sometimes we have bad days. As I struggled to learn longer and more complex combinations in ballet, and add arm movements to them, bad days became inevitable. But in the end, I stayed with it and improved to the point where I can follow along even in some higher level classes. And let me tell you, the feeling of having a great class outshines any feelings of self-doubt during tougher days. I’ve seen this happen with other students too. If they stick it out through the confusions of learning a new form of exercise and build up some endurance, they feel accomplished and genuinely enjoy themselves! And yes, we all have busy weeks when we cannot come to class. Don’t let that discourage you! The right instructors will always welcome you back and help you pick up where you left off.
There is always room to grow
If you are like me, then you don’t feel satisfied repeating the same routine of exercises every time you hit the gym. While I tried increasing the weights I trained with, or cutting down on my 1-mile time, going through the motions still felt monotonous. Every next step required more exertion, but it was still the same exercise over and over. Ballet is different in that once you are able to adequately perform an exercise, the exercise changes. Combinations and movements differ from class to class, and new steps, jumps or turns are introduced all the time. On several occasions, depending on the students present and what they want, the instructor can completely abandon the normal class format and do a whole hour and a half at the barre en pointe or teach a variation.
The physical benefits
Will you get a dancer’s body from starting ballet as an adult? The truth is, no. However, ballet does burn a lot of calories when done right, and after several months of classes, you can start seeing changes in your body. Building lean muscle makes you look toned but not bulky. In clearer terms, you can look forward to much less jiggle! So while you will not experience a complete change of your body shape, ballet classes will move you in the direction of a dancer’s body.
Eye-opening new experiences!
If you have never done ballet dance before, you quickly learn that there is an entire group of muscles you rarely put to use in other physical activities. The motions of ballet are very different due to the constant need to turn-out. Furthermore, depending on the ballet school and instructors, you *may* have the option of learning pointe work, if you so wish. If you have never slipped into a pair of toe shoes before, it is a novel feeling that adds a completely different layer of challenges to balance and dancing. Finally, something that Ballet Central New Jersey does is sometimes allows adult students to perform in annual shows, if they are willing to put the work into classes and rehearsals. I have tried all of these things, and discovered that learning a physical activity is very different than learning something from a book. For instance, I had no idea that performances would make me so nervous, and that completing a show as a group leads everyone to become closer, regardless of age and experience. The choreography stays with you and the music you danced to gains a whole new meaning in your life. You remember it forever.
So go forth and find a local ballet class! You might never know if you have a dancer inside you unless you try!
- Ina N.
A ballet performance looks light, graceful and effortless, though most of us know it requires extreme athletic ability and strength. But did you know that ballerinas have to do almost daily stretching to maintain their flexibility? Or that the shape of dancers’ feet can make or break their future? Here are 5 interesting facts about what ballet dancers do and endure behind the scenes in order to be able to perform onstage and delight their audiences with their art form.
5) Ballet dancers stretch EVERYTHING
We know dancers need to be able to do the splits. But once they achieve the splits, they tackle the over-splits. And that’s just the legs! Ballet dancers also regularly stretch their shoulders and back. Stretching the neck side to side helps achieve that sloped-shoulder, long-necked look that people associate with a professional dancer. Rotation of the hips and the arches of the feet always need more work, too! Adequate flexibility is a requirement for any aspiring dancer, and it takes daily stretching exercises to achieve and maintain it. Furthermore, ballet is performed turned-out, which entails fully rotating legs from the hip down so that toes point straight out to the sides. This makes just lifting a leg to its maximum height that much more difficult to do! And on that note…
4) Turn-out! Turn-out! Turn-out!
Have you ever walked by a ballet studio? You’ve likely heard the instructor not-so-gently reminding the students to “turn-out!” This is the hallmark of proper ballet technique. While most of us spend our lives being turned in, i.e. toes pointing straight forward, ballet dancers work daily to improve their turn out. Most positions – first, second, fourth, fifth - require the legs to be turned out at 90o to be considered correct. However, dancers don’t just stand still in first position – the turn-out must be maintained while performing complex dance moves onstage, even when dancing en pointe!
3) Super-strong toes
Toes are parts of the body I never even thought could “have strength” until I tried going up en pointe. The little piggies, however, need various strengthening exercises with therabands, repeated pointing and flexing, as well as exercises at the barre in order to be able to point hard enough to allow a dancer to stay up en pointe in the center. While the box and shank of the pointe shoe provide some support, a professional dancer cannot “sit” (relax) in the shoe and rely on its rigidity to support her. While up en pointe, the dancer’s foot is fully and actively pointed, every muscle engaged. It is the only way to dance up there.
2) A pair of pointe shoes can get worn out in one performance or less
Pointe shoes require a lot of skill and man hours to produce. The cheapest pairs come out to $50-60, but for the most part dancers don’t just get to choose the cheapest style. Pointe shoes are fitted to the dancer’s foot shape, and so when a dancer finds the shoe that feels best, she will stick with that brand and style. The average price for Blochs and Grishkos, two of the more common shoe brands, is about $80. A professional dancer at a company can get anywhere from a single day to about a week of dance out of a pair of pointe shoes before having to discard them. There are, however, ballets that can kill a brand new pair in a single performance, or even in one act! Therefore, pointe shoes are a huge expense for a ballerina until she joins a company (as companies generally provide the shoes for their dancers).
1) Ballet dancers are obsessed with feet!
A pointed foot in a pointe shoe is THE symbol of ballet, and it is always a very arched pointed foot. This “banana foot” aesthetic of ballet has a practical purpose behind it – unless a foot has a certain shape, a dancer simply cannot go up en pointe. Even then, it is not easy to stay up there unless the arch is significantly higher than the minimum requirement. However, today’s dancers also need more and more curvature to their feet because of the look it creates. A young dancer can be told she won’t advance out of the corps de ballet in a company because her feet aren’t good enough (it happened to Zoe Saldana, before she turned to acting!). If two dancers are equal in every way, a company will always pick the one with better feet. It is no surprise, then, that the foot aesthetic is something dancers are preoccupied with – they stretch their own feet, and they stretch each other’s feet. Instructors are experts in bending feet painfully to increase flexibility. Everyone looks at everyone else’s feet and compares them to their own. It’s quite the obsession!
I hope this has been an interesting glimpse into the off-stage life of a ballet dancer. Ballet is truly an exquisite technique to learn and practice, and it provides a unique experience of the dance world.
Happy dancing, everyone!