Ballet Instructor Profile: Joan Liu

IMG_2621Instructor profiles are back! Meet Joan Liu, a ballet instructor based in New York. You can find her on Facebook at Joan Liu – Dance and Wellness, and make sure you check out this recent article she wrote about yoga and dance for Yoganonymous.

How long have you been dancing?

I’ve been dancing for 13+5=18 years.  Why 13+5? The first 13years was consecutive, then I had a health issue which led to a five-year hiatus, been back for five more years!

Why do you dance ballet?

The rigors of ballet gave me just enough discipline to support, but a blank canvas to paint my emotions.

Who/What inspires you to dance?

This is a hard one.  I have that innate eagerness to dance, emotions that constantly inspire me to strive for more.  I am also deeply inspired by my colleagues, my teachers, choreographers I work with, and my students.

How long have you taught ballet?

I’ve been teaching ballet on and off for 14 years.

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Ballet Instructor Profile: Megan Berryhill

Me Contemporary Position HoldThis week’s profile is of Megan Berryhill, who runs BalléNess, where ballet meets fitness in an online dance studio, allowing dancers to dance and work out from the convenience of their own home.

How long have you been dancing?

I’ve been dancing for 25 years.

Why do you dance ballet?

My husband and I were talking about this last night. (He is not a dancer). He asked me what is it about dance that I love and I said “first, if I didn’t do ballet my body would hurt. I will never stop. I can tell even after one day. My body tells me. “ The second reason I like to dance, specifically ballet, it gives you a creative outlet to let go of tension, energy, and emotions but in a controlled way.

Who/What inspires you to dance?

My students. All of my students definitely are inspiration to continue dancing and teaching. Another inspiration is music. Music always inspires me to dance. I find it difficult to listen to music and not have choreography forming in my head.

How long have you taught ballet?

I’ve taught ballet for ten years.

Where do you teach ballet?

I am originally from Pennsylvania and have taught in VA, OH, PA and NYC, but I currently am living in Baku, Azerbaijan. I teach ballet here but also online. With my lifestyle of traveling to different countries I wanted a way to continue teaching and keep training students that I have taught in person. So now I own an online dance studio at balleness.com and I teach the classes live and in real time. It’s great. I currently teach ballet to students all over the United States, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Qatar, Ukraine, Belgium and Turkey. It’s also a good outlet for dancers that want private lessons or for adults that do not have the confidence to enroll at a ballet studio. I have some dancers that I have never met in person and I have watched them improve their ballet vocabulary and technique and we both feel that we know each other; but we have never met! It’s awesome.

Who do you teach (ages, gender, level, etc.)?

I teach 3 year olds through 103 year olds. All ages and all levels.

What other types of dance do you teach (if any)?

I teach BalléNess (which is a ballet based fitness class for adults), contemporary, modern, pointe, jazz, beginner hip-hop, and beginner tap.

Why do you teach ballet?

I love to teach ballet. Watching students grow and improve from your training is so rewarding and what is better than getting rewarded for teaching your passion?

What is your favorite ballet step to teach and why?

For the young dancers I love teaching pas de chat. Doing passe’s over and over in parallel and then turn out is just fun. Like marching, but jumping. And then acting as a cat with them to do the pas de chat. I really don’t know why I love it, I just do.

For adults, my favorite ballet step to teach is a super simple step: chaine and pique turns. When I show them adults are always intimidated and think they could NEVER turn as fast, and in a straight line like I did. And then after some practicing and training, boom! They always successfully perform chaine and pique turns. And then it is that smile they all get and relief that they did it! They actually did it.

What advice/tips would you give to adults who want to begin ballet for the first time/adults starting ballet again?

Don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t compare yourself to others. Often we become frustrated and hard on ourselves if our leg can’t get as high as the person standing at the barre next to us, or we can’t figure out how on earth that petite allegro combination goes…get over it. You came to ballet class for practice and repetition, and with that and your instrument you will get there.

You can contact Megan by email(admin@balleness.com), on Facebook and Twitter!

Ballerina Profiles: Georgia Canning of Tutu Times

Georgia_Canning

Georgia Canning started Tutu Times when she was a University student. Since then, it’s grown into a platform for her adult ballerina students as well as a place for all dancers to discuss all things dance-related!

What is your website, Tutu Times, about?

Tutu Times was a blog I started back when I was at University and has since turned into a platform for our adult ballerinas and the dance community to discuss all things dance related! It’s constantly evolving.

How long have you been dancing?

I’ve been dancing since I was 3 years old!

How long have you been doing ballet?

Since I was 3! It was my first style and will probably be my last. I love contemporary, but they say the first step you learn is a plie and the last step you master is a plie.

Who/What inspired you to dance?

No one in particular. It wasn’t until I was about 10 that I started identifying my ‘heroes’ in the dance world. Kimberley Davis from the Queensland Ballet and Lucinda Dunn from The Australian Ballet were notable favourites. They’ve both retired now. Which makes me feel a little old! My favourite male dancer was Paul Boyd, who later became my coach.

What training do you have in dance/what is your background in dance?

I studied all styles growing up (ballet, jazz, tap, contemporary, lyrical etc) and focused primarily on Ballet and Contemporary when I trained with The Australian Ballet School. I was trained in the Russian method (Vaganova) and continue that style as a teacher. Although there’s something a little American about how I dance. Because the USA doesn’t have a rich history in Ballet like Russia or England, they’re very progressive and experimental. Combine that with the fiercely passionate Australian style and I dance and teach somewhere in between all that! I’d like to think I take the best parts of each style.

Where do you teach ballet?

I have a dance studio on the Gold Coast (Australia) called GC Dance. Our adult classes are run under a different business name, Tutu Times.

How long have you taught ballet?

I started teaching Ballet to children when I was at University. So it’s probably been about 6 years now! However I’ve only been teaching adults for the past twelve months. It’s very different but I absolutely love our adult classes!

Who do you teach (ages, gender, level, etc.)?

Absolutely everyone! I don’t believe Ballet is off limits to anyone.

What other types of dance do you teach (if any)?

I can teach all styles, but primarily focus on Ballet, Jazz and Contemporary.

Why do you teach ballet?

There’s something about Ballet that is so pure and honest. It’s technically demanding, requires absolute concentration and allows you to express yourself through the most elegant movement. I don’t know what else lets you do all those things at once?! Ballet allows your body and mind to evolve, inquire and be real. Movement in general triggers an organic way of expressing oneself. It’s honest. If I’m having a bad day, I feel so much better after taking a class. The structure, discipline and moment to express puts my life back into perspective.

What advice/tips would you give to adults who want to begin ballet for the first time/adults starting ballet again?

Dive in! Don’t feel self conscious and remember that Ballet requires commitment and repetition! Don’t expect to be perfect and understand everything in the first class. It may take a week, or even a whole year to feel absolutely on top of things in class! You never stop learning so it’s unlikely you’ll ever feel 100% confident. I also constantly say in class, BREATHE! Breathing is so important.

What are you favorite activities/hobbies outside of dance?

I love going to the beach (we have some beautiful beaches on the Gold Coast!) and enjoying the outdoors. I also love to travel and try see the world during my holiday breaks. New York and Bali couldn’t be more dissimilar if they tried, but they’re my favourite destinations.

Q & A with Kathy Mata

Kathy Mata is the director of Kathy Mata Ballet,  a “non-professional, community-oriented dance company” for adult ballet students. The company was founded in 1988 and is based in San Francisco. Ms. Mata also teaches ballet at Alonzo King LINES Dance Center.  Ms. Mata would like to thank Claire Vlach, a dancer with KMB, for her help with editing this interview.

Photograph_of_Kathy_Mata,_Photographer_-Christine_Fu

Photo of Kathy Mata by Christine Fu.

 What inspired you to create an adult ballet company?

 
I wanted to give professional working adults the opportunity to do community service work by performing for seniors and for benefits for worthy causes. When I was teaching at the Jewish Community Center, there were regular events there for seniors and my dance class was asked to perform. In 1988, the group branched out to perform at other facilities who had heard about us and requested us to come perform for them. The seniors were so appreciative that it became a part of our lives.

Did anyone ever discourage you from starting an adult ballet company?

Never. The activities director at the JCC encouraged me to start my group and supported me 100%.

 
What performance opportunities does your company offer to its dancers?

We perform 8 times a year. We perform multiple times a year for senior living facilities and community centers, and once a year we do a large theater performance for independent seniors and other members of the community. We also do fundraisers for causes such as brain tumor research and local dance facilities.

What advice would you offer to adult ballet students who are hesitant about performing?

 
I ask students to become familiar with our group and to volunteer with us to learn about the experience of performing. We have volunteers who help us with several aspects of the show, including help with costumes, stage management, coordination with senior centers, publicity, and soliciting donations from local businesses. Some of our volunteers have then joined the performance group, and others continue working with us in their volunteer capacity.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about adult ballet students?

 
People have the misconception that ballet is for children because of the physical preparation it takes to develop a dancer. It was believed that once the body was set and the skeletal structure and muscles were fully developed, it was impossible for adults to train. This is wrong. Many dance schools are now breaking that barrier by offering adult open classes and opportunities to perform. It has been shown by doctors and medical experts that ballet is one of the best exercises for physical injuries such as back problems, because it works both sides of the body evenly. Ballet is also a good therapeutic outlet for stress.

 

Kathy_Mata_Ballet_Dancers,_Photographer-_Jennifer_Maravillas
Photo of Kathy Mata Ballet dancers by Jennifer Maravillas.

Advice from Ballet Instructors: Interview with Cynthia McCranie

Cynthie McCranie, an ex-ballet instructor took the time to talk to me about her 49 years of dance experience and gave some great advice to us ballet newbies (there is even some great stretching advice in there for those doing the #30daystretchchallenge)!

These photos are from a summer technique class Cynthia taught last year.

Adult Ballerina Project: How long have you been dancing?

Cynthia McCranie:  I began ballet lessons at age 4 1/2. Had to stop in 1998 after involved in a car accident. So,for around 35 years, I danced.

ABP: How long have you been doing ballet?

CM: Entire length of time in ballet is 49 years. I continued to teach after the auto accident.

ABP: Who/What inspired you to dance?

CM: Music inspires me and when I met Margot Fonteyn, I knew I was doomed. I was both exhaulted and depressed. Her artistry amazed and electrifid me, while at the same time I was depressed. I knew I would never achieve her stature in my art.

ABP: Where have you taught ballet and for how long?

CM: I am no longer teaching. For over 30 years I taught in the metro Atlanta area for my own studio and others. A few are: Atlanta Ballet (now called ABCDE- Atlanta Ballet Center of Dance Education), Smyrna School of Ballet, Dan & Company, Dance 411, Peachtree Presbyterian Fine Arts School, La Grange Ballet Theatre, Susan Chambers School of Theatre Dance, Georgia Ballet, Georgia Dance Academy, the Savannah Ballet plus many others.

ABP: Who do you teach (ages, gender, level, etc.)?

CM: I have taught ages 3 through adults, male and female. From the very beginning creative movement/ballet ages 3 & 4 through the advanced levels of Pre-professional teens and adult

ABP: What other types of dance do you teach (if any)?

CM:  My primary focus is ballet. I  also have taught modern, tap and jazz.

The class had three girls in the technique class, each on a different level.

ABP: Why do you teach ballet?

CM: There was no way I could live off the income of a professional company member in the Savannah Ballet. We were on a weekly wage, but it was very low compared to other professonals. So, I began teaching classes in the ballet school and took on extra duties to compensate my income.

ABP: What advice/tips would you give to adults who want to begin ballet for the first time/adults starting ballet again?

CM: For the beginner adult my advice is to be sure and not take it so seriously that you can’t breathe! Enjoy your class,let yourself smile and perform as you learn. LAUGH at your mistakes sometimes. It IS important to take it seriously, but not to the point that it becomes dire for you. The majority of the adults I taught were very serious, smart and self-motivated. They entered the studio scared and very self concsious. I understand that, but my job as I saw it, was not to cut them down, but to raise them up. Having had a few instructors along the way who were very mean spirited and who traumatized me in class, I determined I would never repeat their behavior. So many knowledgable and talented teachers exist nowdays in every coner of the world, that  there is no excuse for a student to remain in a saddistic class. Sure, ballet is strenous and demanding. Taking class and working well  is why you are paying your money. There is a difference in working “had” and working “well.” Sometimes a student can work too hard (as I did as a young student) to the point of detrement. Balancing out knowing when to put 110% in and when to relax is part of every student’s ongoing learning curve. That just goes with the art form. You are re-training the body to do something that is physically unnatural. This requires great effort in order to make it appear effortless.

She made sure to give each girl appropriate corrections for their level.

When you are early for your class (I hope this is the case, anyway, lol) be sure to start with gente stretching on your own. The best thing to start with is usually the parallel calf and achilles stretch.Standing, facing the wall a few feet away, place your hands on the wall. Stand in a parallel 1st position and slowly slide one leg en arriere (to the rear.) Consciously breathe deeply an slowly as you continue the leg to a deep lunge. Stay in this position a while- a minute and a half  to 2 minutes and enjoy the stretch. Do the same with the other leg. You want to go as far as you can (ithout the heel releasing the floor) until you feel a good stretch along the back of the leg, especially on the back of the ankle.

ABP: Anything else you’d like to add?

CM: In conclusion, it is good to try new things and learn new skills. Ballet is incredibly rewarding. Just remember though, it can’t be learned in 6 lessons! Enjoy the journey. 

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