Katie Bissinger of Cold Spring is the new owner and artistic director of Ballet Arts Studio in Beacon. Fall classes begin on Sept. 12.
Did you dream of owning a dance studio?
I did, but up until now I was satisfied with letting artistic opportunities present themselves and grabbing them when I could. Taking over Ballet Arts was very much a mutual decision between [former owner] Alex [Bloomstein] and I. I had been teaching there for six years and been the associate artistic director for three and I’ve loved the place since the first time I set foot in it. It reminds me of the studio that I grew up dancing in.
What changes do you have planned?
Ballet Arts has been around for nearly 60 years, so there are many traditions that I am keeping, particularly the requirement that all dancers must take ballet if they want to take modern, jazz or theater dance. During my performing career, I saw clearly how those with a solid background in ballet not only got the work but also were the most disciplined performers with the greatest longevity and least injury.
I would like to try to bring African dance back to Ballet Arts, where it flourished for many years, because African is equally foundational. I hope that reintroducing it will attract more students of color.
You were a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall. What aspects of that discipline have you found helpful in your teaching?
Precision dance trains your mind to be critical in an entirely new way. My students will tell you that I rarely miss anything when I watch and take notes. The repetition and work ethic of the Rockettes is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. I also owe so much to my ballet teacher, Marya Kennett in Goshen. She inspired thousands of dancers to live up to their personal best and taught well into her 90s.
How has COVID-19 changed dance instruction?
Safety is a priority because the goal is to be able to continue to dance in person as long as we can. We are taking temperatures and hand sanitizing on entry, all dancers and teachers are wearing masks, we are taking 15 minutes between every class to clean the barres, floors and audio equipment, every window and door is wide open with exhaust fans pulling as much air out as possible and dancers are spaced 8 — not 6 —feet apart at the barre and in the center. There is no more partnering or any physical contact at all and class sizes are limited.
Dancers are resilient and determined, so I have not been surprised to see that many of our dancers have already returned without complaint to the studio. Online is tricky because the views of the dancers are usually limited and there is no one around but you to demonstrate things. The most positive aspect of online classes is the social and emotional benefit they provided during the lockdown. Our youngest students signed on early to talk with their friends and our adult classes saw a huge boom in attendance, with dancers as far away as Maine. Online teaching has made our faculty focus on what can be accomplished in smaller spaces.
Can anyone be a dancer?
Absolutely. I cannot tell you the amount of times I have had astonished parents come up to me and ask how I got their child to do that or the times a man or woman of a certain age has mustered the courage to tap dance and left the class with a huge smile. Dance is powerful, life-changing stuff. I consider myself blessed to be part of it.