Shall We Dance? Ballet School Gets Local Tots on Their Toes

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Shall We Dance? Ballet School Gets Local Tots on Their Toes
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So you think you can dance? Albert Einstein once said that dancers are the athletes of God, and to be sure, it is an expressive art that takes many forms. With the explosion of reality shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars, the interest in and admiration for dancing is skyrocketing. It is, in effect, cool again.

Whether you are interested in the timeless tradition of Baryshnikov and ballet, the effortless movement of Fred Astaire or the latest Beyonce moves from Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It), it all begins with getting up and learning to move, and the Washington School of Ballet is teaching young Alexandrians to do just that as it begins its second year of classes at the Athenaeum in Old Town.
We really wanted to bring ballet back to the Athenaeum, said Andrew Macdonald, vice president of the board of the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association, which owns and maintains the Athenaeum. It was one of those uses of the building that we wanted to preserve and it provides a great benefit to local Alexandria children.

The Washington School of Ballet is one of the most prestigious in the country and is internationally recognized for its classical training and dedication to excellence in dance and dance education.
We are very proud of what we do and our teaching methods are consistent from pre-ballet to advanced, said Kee-Juan Han, director for the Washington School of Ballet. We train kids the right way and dont push them beyond where they should be.

Alexandria resident Holly Rasmussen is on the faculty of the Washington School of Ballet and teaches the classes at the Athenaeum.

We had a very successful first year, said Rasmussen, who is in her sixth year of teaching for the school. I enjoy teaching and it is especially rewarding to be working with the children.

Classes offered at the Athenaeum range from creative movement to the first of six graded levels, which usually translates into 4-8-year-olds. More then 50 students took classes last year at the Old Town landmark.

We had a lot of good students from Alexandria, Rasmussen said, and many of them auditioned and were selected to perform in the Nutcracker. Eighteen local ballet students did in fact perform on stage with the Washington Ballet in their signature production of the Nutcracker at the Warner Theatre last year.

We had great participation from Alexandria and it was a good opportunity for them to meet and work with the students from our Northwest campus. Rasmussen said.

The Athenaeum has a long history of offering classes at the building but took a hiatus while significant renovations were being performed.

We did not have the manpower or administrative capabilities to manage a ballet school, said Twig Murray, another NVFAA board member. The Washington Ballet was looking for ways to offer classes in satellite locations in the community and we were looking to offer them without having to run a ballet school.

Septime Webre, the celebrated artistic director of the Washington Ballet, was invited to visit the Athenaeum, and as Murray said, The rest is history.

Classical ballet training provides young people not only with a great foundation in the arts, but also important skills like self-discipline, focus and the ability to work as a team, Webre said. The Washington Ballet is thrilled to bring this great gift to young people of Alexandria in a setting as beautiful and significant as the Athenaeum.

Macdonald said that the NVFAA board tries to use the Athenaeum space in various ways.
Our first mission is to preserve the building, Macdonald said. But we are also dedicated to using it in ways to help the community. Partnering with the Washington Ballet fills both of those functions and responsibilities.

Murray praised the staff of the Washington School of Ballet for their efforts in implementing and managing the Alexandria classes.

Septime has surrounded himself with the most dedicated, creative and hard-working people, Murray said. We are extremely pleased to work with them and privileged to have this relationship with them.

Auditions for classes at the Athenaeum will be held August 8, but Han is quick to point out that the Washington School of Ballet doesnt teach play ballet.

We are teaching dance, but we are also teaching discipline we dont let kids run wild, Han said. This is often an education for parents as well.

Class sizes are kept to a minimum in an effort to preserve the quality of the classes and keep the focus on education.

Its great for me to be able to teach so close to home, Rasmussen said, and I love teaching kids of all ages. They are always excited to be in class. But when pressed, Rasmussen relented and said that perhaps the 7-8-years olds are her favorite. At that age, they can understand steps and concepts and are really enjoying it for themselves.

The partnership between the Athenaeum and the Washington School of Ballet has so far been successful and both organizations hope to see it continue.

The parents in Alexandria seem happy to have us here, Rasmussen said. I am looking forward to this year and hope the program continues to grow and expand.

For more information on the Washington School of Ballet and the upcoming auditions at the Athenaeum, visit www.washingtonballet.org.

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