The journey is the purpose …
It is impossible to predict the influence ballet will have on a person’s life. It is always a personal journey (for students and parents) and I have come to respect this deeply.
I started ballet when I was 7 years old. In Russia, even at the amateur level, ballet is taught very seriously for 1.5 hours 3 times a week. At 9, kids are selected to join the professional academies – like the Vaganova Academy in St Petersburg – where they board from age 10-18 and finish their schooling. They dance 6 days a week. It is a prestigious path for the very best but it’s not easy.
At age 9, I quit. Yes, my mum did not want that life for me; she wasn’t sure I’d have the character to go through the hardships of training. So, she persuaded me to pursue my music and violin studies instead — her dream.
At 13 I started dancing again in a vibrant Russian National Dance Group. It made me feel alive. That is what passions are made of and so, I was determined to follow my heart and a career in dance.
After school, I studied at the Novosibirsk College of Art and Culture for the broad and comprehensive 3-year programme offered at Russian tertiary institutions.
At college, we trained in ballet, modern, character dance, folk, ballroom, Latin American, tap and historical dance from seventeenth-century imperial courts. Academic subjects included Music, History of Art & Dance, Anatomy, Psychology, Pedagogics, Art School Management and the theory and practise of Choreography and Teaching – a total of 33 subjects altogether.
Of course, the ballet training method developed by Agrippina Vaganova is an institution in Russia. It is deeply ingrained in the education of performers and teachers. And classical ballet is revered as the foundation for all forms of dance.
I graduated in 1990 with distinctions in everything … except for Ballet! Can you imagine? I got a B. In actual fact, I didn’t apply myself fully. I thought, at 16 I was too old to start training in ballet again and that I would never get to teach it. So why bother?.. Little did I know! It was a crisis of confidence and self-worth but I soon had a reality check.
I needed money, so I joined a travelling dance company and eventually found myself in Africa – in the Congo – where I was offered a teaching job, and soon after that, I opened my own school. I taught all forms of dance but, as fate would have it, there was a growing demand for classical ballet, so I taught for 5 years and loved it.
The beauty of clarity …
I loved teaching the children and the teenagers, and I loved seeing them grow. But most importantly, I saw students committing to what I taught and I saw them get results – regardless of their body shape or backgrounds. I witnessed the power of Vaganova training itself.
Vaganova is the most systematic, focused, technically sound and safe way to train a young body (and mind) for the physical and artistic demands of ballet. I came to trust the discipline and the ethos of the method implicitly.
When a student executes the steps they have been practising – over and over and over again – there is nothing that can match the feeling of pride and deep joy within them …. and within me. This is why some say that ballet is danced with the soul.
And this is why I had to dedicate myself to excellence in teaching. Mediocrity was not an option.
Dreams Often Tarry Before They Take Flight …
In 2000, I met my husband in the Congo. Because of his work we lived in different countries for a few years at a time – London (where I trained and explored RAD), Israel and Belgium. Then in 2008, we once again found ourselves in Africa and we decided to settle in Johannesburg with our children aged 5 and 3.
I followed my passion for teaching wherever I lived, but it was always temporary. Now, I could put all my energy into building a high-quality academy for the longterm.
Pure fortune came our way with the venue in Parkhurst. I could create a permanent, harmonious and professional space. Another stroke of luck was our Harlequin flooring. I paid for the standard quality and found, by chance, that it was the premium version. And then we got the gift of our air conditioners for which we are forever grateful.
The joinery has tested the mettle of my resolve, but it has been humbling.
It is Only the Beginning …
The Russian School of Ballet not only makes waves in South African dance competitions but our dancers have competed in America and Europe. They have also performed in St Petersburg, which is a great honour.
We have two young women training as teachers at a university in Moscow – thanks to the support of the Russian Embassy who made this possible.
We continue to produce full-scale ballets like ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Thumbelina’ that are firm favourites on the calendar of Joburg’s Roodepoort Theatre.
I am proud of what we have achieved to date but to offer quality, I must also continue to learn.
I attended a Classical Ballet Teacher’s Seminar, at the Vaganova Academy in St.Petersburg (2011). I also studied for 2 years at the Bolshoi Academy in Moscow (2014-16). In 2019 I went to an International Seminar in Dance School Management (New York, organized by the Dance Studio Owners Association, that I’m a member of for the last 4 years.
At the heart of it all …
My aim is to help each student achieve their own ballet dream. Whether they train for a few years or become a professional dancer or teacher, I want them to have the best chance of performing ballet in its most accurate form.
Classical ballet equips them with skills for the rest of their lives – whatever they choose to become – because they know what it takes to accomplish something that is difficult. Ballet is difficult and that is why it is rewarding too.
Talent is just a raw material – application is the key! I have seen a child that first looks as opposite as possible to a ballerina turn into a beautiful dancer and I have seen children, physically perfect for ballet, get wholly bored and leave.
Being a parent myself, I hope to offer parents the best value for their money and their efforts which are substantial when training a dancer.
My deepest wish is to share all my knowledge of the Russian ballet tradition – its great history, richness and wisdom – to provide a life long appreciation of the beautiful world of classical ballet for students and their families.
Thank you for being part of the Russian School of Ballet.
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