Highlands teens get taste of professional life
By Alison Rooney
In 1994, Valerie Feit, then owner and artistic director of the Ballet Arts Studio in Beacon, felt the teenage dancers who attended classes there needed to know what was expected of professionals.
So she founded the Dutchess Ballet Company, which is now called the Dutchess Dance Company and under the direction of Alex Bloomstein, who purchased the studio from Feit in 2006. On Friday, Dec. 21, its 16 members and 40 other dancers will perform Winter Tidings at 5:30 p.m. at Rombout Middle School, 88 Matteawan Road. Admission is free. (See balletartsstudio.com.)
Each year, Bloomstein invites promising dancers to join the company, which operates separately from the studio. Each must be able to commit to a minimum of three ballet classes and one modern dance class per week, plus a Saturday ballet session that can last up to four hours. The dancers must be at least 12 years old because the bones in the feet usually aren’t strong enough in children to support dancing on the toes (on pointe).
“What they learn about themselves: discipline, commitment — there’s nothing like dancing,” says Bloomstein. “Young dancers develop serious strength, artistic, intellectual and physical strength. That’s the real goal here, to give them a sense of themselves.”
The company has a hierarchy similar to those used by professional troupes, with apprentices, corps, demi-soloists, soloists and principals. “We bring in professional choreographers each year to set original choreography on them,” Bloomstein says. “They do a ballet piece each year and also a barefoot, modern piece. Before Title IX [a federal law that in 1972 required equal opportunities for female athletes], dance was sports for girls. They’re like a group getting together for athletics, going for a common goal.”
Some dancers join the company hoping to become professionals; currently six girls and a boy who were once members are being trained in New York City and elsewhere, he said.
“When I get a dancer with the desire, intelligence, talent and physical instrument needed, I say to parents that, after a certain point, their child cannot stay in Beacon; they must continue training in New York City,” he says. “Several students have received scholarships, including one at the Joffrey Ballet and another at The School of American Ballet.”
Those who aspire to other careers can create performance portfolios to include with their college applications, and many attend schools with strong dance programs.
Katie Langer, 17, a senior at Haldane, has been studying ballet at the studio for seven years, after taking classes elsewhere with Katie Bissinger, the associate artistic director at Ballet Arts.
“It’s pretty and graceful,” Langer says of ballet. “We rehearse so much that when we perform, we don’t have to think about the steps. By that time, they’re just in you. My friends don’t realize how much practice it takes, how hard we work. It’s not as easy as it looks.”
Hannah Smith, 14, a freshman at Beacon High School, has been taking ballet since she was 3. She says ballet “helps me not get stressed out about things outside of dance. Performing is the most fun part. It’s a way of expressing yourself.”
When Langer adds that both girls are “quiet people, and dance is a way to get out of quietness,” Smith agrees: “There are girls at my school I didn’t know existed, but then I met them here.”