Author Archives: Ballet Austin

Ballet Austin

About Ballet Austin

Ballet Austin is a professional dance company which also offers professional classical ballet training and instruction through the Ballet Austin Academy, which is one of the largest in the U.S. We're committed to providing the highest quality dance instruction to students, and currently the Academy has more than 800 students. Ballet Austin's Butler Center for Dance & Fitness offers classes for all ages and skill levels. And our state-of-the-art Pilates Center is open 7 days a week and gives clients personalized training with one of the top voted instructors in Austin. Dance and fitness workshops are also available, as well as adult workshops and summer kids camps.

6 Things You Should Know about the Director’s Choice Choreographers

By Pei-San Brown,  Community Education Director

Director’s Choice 2016 is fast approaching and Artistic Director Stephen Mills is excited to introduce two extraordinary choreographic talents to local audiences, while presenting two of his favorite works. One of the most interesting aspects of Director’s Choice is the breadth of movement ideas and music used for the different pieces. Before you join us Valentine’s Day weekend, here are the top 6 things you need to know about our presenting choreographers.

1. Pontus Lidberg, the choreographer

Pontus Lidberg holds an MFA in Contemporary Performative Arts from the University of Gothenburg / Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts. He trained at the Royal Swedish Ballet School, and after graduating, he danced with The Royal Swedish Ballet, The Norwegian National Ballet, Le Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève, and The Göteborg Ballet.

Choreographer Pontus Lidberg. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

Choreographer Pontus Lidberg. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

2. Pontus Lidberg, the filmmaker

Lidberg’s most recent dance film, Labyrinth Within (2011)—featuring former New York City Ballet principal dancer Wendy Whelan, and a score by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang—received the Court Métrange du Jury prize at the Court-Métrange Film Festival in Rennes, France (2011) and won Best Picture at the Dance on Camera Festival in New York (2012).

Pontus and Wendy, Photo by Adrian Danchig-Waring

Pontus and Wendy, Photo by Adrian Danchig-Waring

3. Pam Tanowitz, the Guggenheim Fellow

Pam Tanowitz holds an MFA in Dance from Sarah Lawrence College, where she was mentored by former Merce Cunningham principal dancer Viola Farber-Slayton. She received a 2009 Bessie Award for Be in the Gray With Me, was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in 2011, and was a 2013/14 Hodder Fellow at Princeton University.

Pam Tanowitz, Photo by Brad Paris

Pam Tanowitz, Photo by Brad Paris

4. Pam Tanowitz, the critic’s favorite

Pam is lauded by dance critics everywhere. Alastair Macaulay of the New York Times wrote in February 2014, “Some of the dance steps, phrases and constructions by the choreographer Pam Tanowitz are among the finest being made anywhere today. They feature memorable footwork, strikingly elegant and witty combinations of lower- and upper-body movement, and complex, subtle, fascinating uses of stage space. And yet she’s an eccentric… Much of her dance vocabulary is taken from ballet and from Merce Cunningham technique, both of which she employs in ways that should often impress devotees of either genre.”

Maggie Cloud and Melissa Toogood in Pam Tanowitz's Passagen at the Joyce Theater, Photo by Andrea Mohin

Maggie Cloud and Melissa Toogood in Pam Tanowitz’s Passagen at the Joyce Theater, Photo by Andrea Mohin

5. Stephen Mills, the musician-turned-dancer

Stephen Mills is a classically-trained musician who studied piano and composition at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. He took his first dance class at the age of 18, and went on to dance with The Harkness Ballet and The American Dance Machine in New York.

He revealed in a 2013 interview with ATX Man, “When I was 8, I had encephalitis, and I was in a brief coma. The fact that I was able to walk in the end was miraculous. So sports were not part of my life. When I went to college and I learned that I could use my body like this, it was a revelation… The second I stepped into the studio, I knew that was what I wanted to do.”

Stephen Mills, Photo by William Russell

Stephen Mills, Photo by William Russell

6. Stephen Mills, the award-winning dance maker

Stephen began his career at Ballet Austin as a dancer. He later became Resident Choreographer, and then eventually Artistic Director of the company. He was the choreographer chosen to represent the United States through his work, Ashes, at Les Rencontres Chorégraphiques Internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis in Paris (1998). His ballet, One / the body’s grace, was awarded the Steinberg Award, the top honor at Le Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur International Choreographic Competition. One of Stephen’s crowning achievements is the ballet Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project, which in 2006 was awarded the Audrey & Raymond Maislin Humanitarian Award by the Anti-Defamation League.

Ballet Austin's Stephen Mills in his work Ashes (1998). Photo by Lucia Uhl.

Ballet Austin’s Stephen Mills in his work Ashes (1998). Photo by Lucia Uhl.

Don’t miss your chance to see these extraordinary artists at their best for Director’s Choice!

New Year, New Work: Working With Pontus Lidberg

By Oliver Greene-Cramer, Company Dancer

Let me start by saying Happy New Year! With the first month of 2016 drawing to a close, we are putting together the final touches on Director’s Choice.

We are about three weeks out from the performance and have just finished learning all of the choreography for the final two ballets—there are four total dance works being performed during Director’s Choice. With this blog post, however, I’ll be looking back at the process and choreography of Pontus Lidberg’s Stream. Pontus first came to set his work on us in October, just before Ballet Austin’s tour to West Palm Beach, and will return to Austin two weeks before Director’s Choice.

Swedish choreographer Pontus Lindberg.

Swedish choreographer Pontus Lindberg.

An internationally acclaimed choreographer and filmmaker, Pontus is originally from Sweden but is currently based in New York City. Given his body of work with companies such as the Swedish Royal Ballet and Royal Danish Ballet, we were extremely excited to learn that we would be working with him.

Stream was originally choreographed on Oregon Ballet Theatre in 2013 so the process was one of resetting existing movement on our company dancers. The ballet is set to an original score by composer Ryan Francis. With gorgeous swells and ethereal melodies the music helps to guide the pulses within the movement.

Though Stream had already been choreographed, Pontus was interested in altering and modifying certain aspects so that we, as dancers, felt more natural in the movement. Therefore, instead of having us mimic a video, he took time to encourage individuality in fulfilling the steps.

Choreographer Pontus Lindberg setting his work Stream.

Choreographer Pontus Lindberg setting his work Stream.

From the first day in the studio Pontus’ aesthetic and intention was clear. Though very intricate in terms of partnering and spatial patterns, the flowing movement demands an organic and effortless mindset. Much of the choreography is connected by off balance steps or even an intentional fall. While the piece is full of floor work and complex partnering, Pontus’ desire is that everything flows naturally while working in the context of the movement vocabulary. Nothing looks forced or random; everything seamlessly connects to the next step. Though his choreography is firmly rooted in classical line, Pontus wants more than just technical cleanliness in a dancer. The choreography demands an expressiveness from the dancers that requires precision without severity.

Company dancers Oliver Greene-Cramer and Ashley Lynn Sherman.

Company dancers Oliver Greene-Cramer and Ashley Lynn Sherman.

Next week Pontus returns to continue coaching Stream in the weeks leading up to the Valentine’s Day Weekend performances. As with all of the other pieces in Director’s Choice, we look forward to sharing Pontus’ beautiful work with Austin.

resolutions

Resolutions: Commitment vs. Interest

It’s the time of year when optimism strikes anew and we think to ourselves, “My New Year’s resolutions will totally work out this time!” Our intentions are good, right? We want to make meaningful changes in our life and January 1st seems to make the most sense as the place to start with all the promises and possibilities a new year brings. Besides, everyone else is doing it.

So we get inspired, energized, and ready to drop the bad habits and build some good ones. There are about 50+ apps out there to help you achieve any resolution you come up with. But the bigger question is whether you are committed or just interested?

People committed to fitness during Get Fit, our annual day of free classes.

People committed to fitness during Ballet Austin’s Get Fit event: our annual day of free classes.

Interest vs. Commitment

It’s easy to be interested in a lot of things. But how do we move beyond interest? To begin with, make sure you understand the difference between interest and commitment.

  • Interest reads an article or blog post; commitment applies that post to each day.
  • Interest works on a new hobby, improving yourself, or eating healthier when it is convenient, easy, or fun; commitment is a priority, is being proactive and looking for ways to make it work!
  • Interest procrastinates; commitment focuses on what’s important today and does it.
  • Interest makes excuses; commitment constantly looks for new ways and solutions, and won’t take “no” for an answer.

Now ask yourself: Are you committed? Or just interested?

Life change and growth requires more than mere interest. It requires a decision, determination, and ongoing dedication. It is your promise to yourself that you will not give up on you! So are you ready to go all out? Are you ready to fully commit yourself to achieving what you have resolved for 2016?

Check your Mindset

PILATES-DETAIL-2

Get on the wagon… or Pilates reformer. Don’t let new activities intimidate you!

Success, in any aspect of life, starts with your mindset. You must make the decision at your core to hold nothing back. Take a good look at your life and decide that nothing is going to stand in your way of achieving something new or changing a habit in your life. If you’re going to commit yourself to your resolution, it’s got to be something that you truly value; not what others think you should do. Your state of mind at the beginning of this journey is key.

Refine and Define Your Goals

I’’s hard to commit yourself to something if your finish line is a nebulous point in the distance. Plenty of resolutions fail because it can be overwhelming to think about doing something for the rest of your life, even the rest of a year.

Instead of “be healthy in 2016”, be specific about what your goals are and what you want the ultimate outcome to be. Determine what you want, how to get there, and how long you plan on dedicating to reach your destination. Consider some of the unhealthy habits you have now, and think about which of those you may want to change. Or is there something you would like to learn, or accomplish? Be specific.

Daily Resolve

Be positive in your goals.

Be positive and commit to your goals daily.

Regrettably, having a clearly defined end-goal isn’t enough to keep you going. Initial enthusiasm slowly begins to fade as time presses on. In fact, only 8% of people actually achieve their New Year’s resolutions.

Once you know how you want to change/learn/grow, begin to put steps together to get there. Daily resolve. Daily commit. At the beginning of each week, write down your top goals for the next 7 days. At the beginning of each day remind yourself what has to happen on that day, and before you go to bed each night, check to see you’ve completed that task. Your mind needs daily reminders of your goals.

The key to staying motivated is finding both enjoyment and achievement along the way. When it’s fun,  we feel we have conquered something; when there is a reward, we gain the edge.

Gather Supporters

Having fun is key! Plenty of like-minded people during Get Fit 2016 event.

Having fun is key! Plenty of like-minded people during Get Fit 2016 event.

Tell others what you are doing. Tell them to ask you about it and encourage you! Surround yourself with like-minded people; people who support what you are striving for and people who are also heading in the same direction. You will meet them at the running trail, the gym, and in a dance class.

And don’t forget to record your progress with photos, journaling, social media, or anything else that gives you motivation and a sense of progress. Celebrate the milestones.

Go easy on yourself

Expect to revert to your old habits from time to time, but don’t allow that to be a deterrent to reaching your end-goal. There are occasional detours and hazards of the road. Treat these as temporary setbacks, rather than failures or a reason to give up completely. So eat that cookie or enjoy a lazy afternoon, and then get back on track! After all, your committed, not just interested.

new-year

Looking Forward To 2016

By Christi Cuellar Lotz, Director of Development

You’ve made our YEAR! And by “our”, I mean the city of Austin.

Undoubtedly, you have received multiple emails from various non-profits asking for your support in 2015, and Ballet Austin has also done our share of asking. As we start a new year, I’d like to take the opportunity to say Thank You. Whether you are supporting Ballet Austin, or any other Austin non-profit organization, Thank You.

You help make Austin the incredible city it is, and you are the reason for our amazing growth and development. These are exciting times in our wonderful city, and the fabric of this town is made up of the threads of those who go above and beyond to give and make it a better place.

Whether you’ve volunteered for The Nutcracker School Shows, or helped serve meals in a soup kitchen, or purchased tickets to one of the city’s many arts productions helping keep the performing arts alive in Austin, or if you simply decided to write a check in 2015 to an organization you support and trust, Thank You.

And, if, indeed, you have included Ballet Austin in your 2015 giving, we could not be more thankful for you! With your support, we look forward to making 2016 just as special and magical as 2015, THANK YOU!

And here is just one of the many reasons we are thankful for YOU. Cheers to a fantastic 2016!

IN PICTURES: Behind The Scenes of The Nutcracker

By Molly Morrow, HR & Accounting Associate

Ballet Austin’s 53rd annual The Nutcracker is an Austin holiday tradition, and the longest running production of The Nutcracker in Texas. Even if you’ve seen it every year, I hope these behind-the-scenes images shed a new light on the production.


There are people who like the ballet, and then there are people who like tattoos of the ballet tattooed into their flesh. We let you find out which kind of person you are with these fun temporary nutcracker prince tattoos.

We revamped The Nutcracker with brand new costumes and sets in 2013, and it shows. The costumes for these waltz-of-the-flowers dancers are lovely, even when you pass them outside of the dressing room under cold fluorescent lighting. Onstage under warm spotlights they are mesmerizing.

These particular flowers (Ballet Austin II dancers Nicole and Abby) are laughing and just generally goofing around while they wait for the second act to start, an exceedingly common occurrence backstage.

A photo posted by Molly Morrow (@mrmollymorrow) on

This life-size Ballet Austin nutcracker is a fun photo op for ballet goers. But it has blossomed into so much more. His head is the size of my living room and he is easily a foot taller than me. He calls me Moll Doll, I call him Mr. Nuts. :-)

I hope you enjoyed my look at The Nutcracker from behind the curtain and I hope that you get to create your own magical experience at the Long Center for this year’s The Nutcracker, running from December 5–23.

The Dark History of The Nutcracker

By Pei-San Brown, Community Education Director

Many of us take for granted the sweet, snowy concoction that we call The Nutcracker ballet. Yet, few know that the ballet actually has a very dark origin.

200 Years Ago

Almost 200 years ago, a German writer named E.T.A. Hoffman published a book called The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Hoffman was an author that liked to write spooky stories that crossed the border between reality and fantasy. In his stories, inanimate objects would come alive and the imagination would run wild. The original tale of The Nutcracker has been described as bizarre and dramatic, very much like the tales from the Brothers Grimm. In fact, Hoffman’s 1816 story was written around the same time as the Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tales.

E.T.A Hoffman, Author

E.T.A Hoffman, Author

One of the largest differences between the Hoffman tale and the ballet we see on most stages today is the missing story within a story, or as Hoffman named it, “The Story of the Hard Nut.” In Hoffman’s Nutcracker, Marie (or Clara as she is known in some versions today) wakes up in her bed after the battle with the mice. She is not feeling well. Her Godfather Drosselmeyer tells her the following story about her beloved toy, the nutcracker, to make her feel better.

Maurice Sendak's illustration of The Story of the Hard Nut

Maurice Sendak’s illustration of The Story of the Hard Nut

The tale within a tale centers on Princess Pirlipat and her family and the feud they have with a family of mice that lives in the palace. The mice offend the king and are driven from the palace, but not before they threaten the princess’ life and then actually turn her from a beautiful baby into a gruesome nutcracker. The court wizard, who coincidentally is also named Drosselmeyer, is tasked with curing the princess. In consultation with the court astronomer, Drosselmeyer discovers that the cure is for the princess to eat the sweet kernel of the nut Krakatuk, and that this hard nut would have to be cracked in the presence of the princess by the teeth of a young man who had never shaved nor worn boots. After cracking the nut, the young man would have to hand her the kernel with his eyes closed and take seven steps backwards without stumbling.

Maurice Sendak’s illustration of Princess Pirlipat

Maurice Sendak’s illustration of Princess Pirlipat

For 15 years, the wizard and astronomer traveled the world in search of the nut Krakatuk. They eventually find the nut in Drosselmeyer’s native city of Nuremberg, and in, of all places, his own cousin’s house. It also turns out that the cousin’s own son is the young man who is to crack the nut. Drossselmeyer, the astronomer, and Drosselmeyer’s nephew speed back to the castle, the young man cracks the nut and the princess becomes a beautiful girl again. However, before the nephew can take seven steps back, he stumbles over the Mouse Queen, who has returned to prevent the princess’ transformation back into a human. This time it is the young man who is cursed and becomes a nutcracker. The astronomer predicts that the nutcracker will become a human again when he kills the Mouse King. And that is The Story of The Hard Nut.

Maurice Sendak’s illustration

Maurice Sendak’s illustration

Modern Times

Approximately three decades later after Hoffman penned his Nutcracker, Alexandre Dumas, the author famous for writing The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo wrote The Nutcracker of Nuremberg, a French adaptation of Hoffman’s book, simplifying the storyline and making it much lighter and sweeter. This revised story was the basis for the libretto of the original ballet version of The Nutcracker with choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, and with music by Peter Tchaikovsky. The Dumas adaptation is also most like the children’s tale we see performed Nutcracker ballets of today.

Photo from the original Nutcracker ballet (1892), St. Petersburg, Russia

Photo from the original Nutcracker ballet (1892), St. Petersburg, Russia

Are you ready to see the Stephen Mills’ version? Purchase your tickets today and compare today’s tale of The Nutcracker to it’s dark past!

8 Tips

8 Tips For A Healthier Holiday

By Vicki Parsons, Butler Center for Dance & Fitness Director

During this busy season of crazy schedules—holiday shopping, baking, decorating, family gatherings and celebratory meals—I have a tough time sticking to my healthy eating habits. In fact, eating healthy during the holidays sometimes seems like an impossible challenge. All around me I’m faced with delicious sweets, gift baskets filled with yummy cheeses and meats, rich egg nog drinks, and platters overflowing with fattening foods. Can you blame me when faced with these temptations? Chances are you can’t blame me. In fact, you probably join me!

Most of us utter some form of “I’ll start eating healthy again in the New Year,” and then we proceed to stuff ourselves from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day. We’re uncomfortably full. Most of us don’t pile our plate like that on a regular day, but during the holidays it would be rude not to try every dish, so pass the pie please!

Blame The Brain?

Research has shown that our brains can easily override our bodies’ signals to stop eating, even when we know the consequences will be unpleasant. While one incredibly heavy meal won’t make us fat, it can make us terribly uncomfortable. It’s harder to breath, we’re drowsy, bloated and gassy, irritable, and even sick. Blame the brain? Maybe. When we’re stuffed with comforting food our brain triggers a warm feeling inside. It’s actually comes from a primal instinct to eat a lot as often as we can, preparing us for hard times when food might not be as easily available: like the squirrels storing up for the winter. The real bummer is that our brain rewards us for it by releasing pleasure chemicals. A recent study suggested that high-fat, high-calorie foods affect the brain in much the same way as cocaine and heroin!

So now that we know all of this, how can we fight against our body and brain taking over our eating habits during this holiday season? First off, simply knowing this will help. Be aware of not only the challenge of more parties and extra food, but also how the brain and body respond to it all.

Tips For A Healthier Holiday

Besides paying attention the brain body responses, follow some of these tips:

Don't skip breakfast on Thanksgiving morning!

Don’t skip breakfast on Thanksgiving morning!

  1. You don’t have to quit “cold turkey” all the savory holiday foods. Remind yourself that you don’t have to overindulge everyday. Decide to eat as healthy as possible on most days, and then give yourself the “go-ahead” to enjoy a few of your favorite foods throughout the month… guilt-free!
  2. Now is probably not a good time to go on a diet. Instead of trying to shed extra pounds during the holiday season, focus on maintaining your current weight.
  3. Stop making food your number one thought. There are some yummy foods we wait all year to consume, but instead of focusing on what’s going to be part of the spread, think about the company you keep, the conversations, the traditions, and the good times. Don’t make it only about the food, make it about the people.
  4. Grill, roast, and bake as often as you can. Go light on the creams and gravies.
  5. Don’t put all the food on the table. When we have to get up for a serving we traditionally eat less.
  6. Eat before you eat! Seriously! Maybe not right before, but the tendency on holidays is to starve in preparation for the big feast. Don’t deprive yourself before your Thanksgiving dinner. Instead, eat a healthy breakfast and lunch (unless your feast is at noon), enjoy your usual in-between snacks throughout the day, and come to the table like you would on any other day. If you show up at dinner starving, you’ll be more likely to overeat and your body will have a harder time digesting the heavy meal.
  7. Take time to savor your food on your days to indulge. Pace yourself, chew slowly, and enjoy each bite. Make each bite smaller and put your fork down once in a while to chew and talk with the other people at the table. It actually takes time for your body to realize it’s full, so the slower you eat, the more likely you will be to stop before you are over full.
  8. Continue to stay active during the holiday season. Not only does physical activity relieve the added stress of the holidays, it will give you the motivation to eat healthy when it’s not party time. Even if you’re significantly busier this month, don’t skip your workouts. Beyond burning calories, a workout can boost your mood for up to 12 hours; a much-needed perk during this hectic season. Get creative to keep moving your body. Walk the Trail of Lights, walk through a decorated neighborhood, bundle up for a fun game of Frizbee, or take the dog for a walk!

 

 

Stay Active

Enjoy the months ahead, incorporate healthy recipes into your holiday meals when you can, watch portion sizes, don’t restrict yourself from enjoying some of your favorite holiday foods, and stay as active as you can. Most importantly, don’t forget that the holidays are for celebrating with family and friends.

And if you totally blow it? Join us January 10 for our Annual GetFit! Day.

Happy Holiday’s From Ballet Austin!

The Clara Diaries

By Jessica Pino, Senior Manager of Audience Engagement & Marketing

Ballet Austin has a total of 186 dancers performing The Nutcracker every year. This includes 44 professional, apprentice & training dancers, and 142 student dancers from the Ballet Austin Academy. A role that many little girls dream of dancing is that of Clara. Meet Madeline Casas, a Ballet Austin Academy student, who is dancing the role for the second year in a row as she talks about what it’s like dancing this role alongside Ballet Austin company dancers.

Iconic Thriller Re-awakens “The Dancing” Dead

By Guest Blogger, Laura Bond Williams, Butler Center for Dance & Fitness member

In 2008, and Ballet Austin’s Butler Center for Dance & Fitness had re-awakened me to the possibilities of becoming a dancer—at age 38. That fall I took a thrilling step forward as a dancer and performer when I joined 800+ other local dancers to participate in “Thrill the World” at the Long Center, joining tens of thousands of movers worldwide to set a Guinness World Record for simultaneously dancing Thriller. That experience—and several more over the last seven years—are why I appreciate and celebrate Thriller as a way for people to connect with their bodies, channel their creativity and claim dance for themselves.

thrill-the-world-tibbygirl

Image from 2008’s Thrill the World at the Long Center. Photo Credit tibbygirl via Flickr CC.

That day, lying flat and “playing dead” on the warm concrete plaza of our city’s performing arts center, we waited for the opening notes and footsteps that mark the beginning of Michael Jackson’s legendary song. Together—women and men of all ages and races—we slowly rose to life, our bodies play-fighting against gravity. Acting our roles as stumbling, bumbling living dead, rising from our graves and ready to…dance. Thriller’s famous fanfare brings us to our feet, and we stare straight ahead, enlivened by the music. The beat drops, and we walk, slowly. Right. Pause. Left. Pause. Right. Pause. Left. Pause.

One of my favorite Broadway dance teachers often quips “if you can walk, you can dance.” (Please note: walking is not even a prerequisite for dancing, as beautiful dance troupes such as Austin’s Body Shift dancers demonstrate.) As we stumbled right-left-right-left across the Long Center plaza, I realized this truth: when we are moved by music, we are dancing.

If you were alive and young in 1984, then Thriller connects your present body to your past. Perhaps you watched Friday night music videos while sitting next to your VCR, waiting for the Thriller video to air so you could tape it and watch it over and over. Thirty-one years later, Thriller still stirs the same reactions.

But you don’t have to be middle-aged to be excited by Thriller. This year, I taught Thriller to a group of young dancers, and we performed it at as a flash mob at an Alamo Drafthouse movie theatre. I gave them only two pieces of advice on costumes: Find some mud and some blood, and if your costume is too clean or too cute, it’s not a zombie.

People of all ages dressing as zombies for Thriller. Photo Credit

People of all ages at Ballet Austin dressed as zombies for Thriller. Photo Credit Laura Bond Williams

These 9–13-year-olds—and many of their parents—channeled ghastly princess and cheerleader zombies and night-of-the-living-dead zombies in white t-shirts, flannel and jeans, drizzled in dirt, leaves, mud and fake blood.

For adults, learning and performing Thriller is a way for us to claim our identity as dancers. For most of us “flash mobbers,” our identity as dancer may fall behind our roles as spouses, parents, and/or professionals. But the identity is no less dear. Last month I met a successful nonprofit executive whose career is a model and inspiration for many. Our conversation spanned many personal and professional subjects, and when we touched on the topic of dance, we went to a whole new shared space and she shared with me that she was starting Ballet Austin’s Thriller workshop. Her enthusiasm and excitement for tackling this iconic dance was palpable.

Photo Credit Laura Bond Williams

Photo Credit Laura Bond Williams

In less than six minutes—from a creaky door to an evil cackle—Thriller brings us back to life, living in our bodies, channeling our creativity and declaring our love of dance. As Vincent Price reminds us in rap: “For whosoever shall be found without the soul for getting down, may stand and face the hounds of hell and rot inside a corpse’s shell.”

Ballet Austin offers Thriller workshops every year! And with Halloween around the corner… Go ahead dancers. Thrill the world.

Creative Ballet at the Ballet Austin Academy

by Joan Wolfe, Creative Ballet Curriculum Director

Creative Movement

Group of Creative Ballet students ready for the new school year. (Photo Credit Jessica Pino)

Group of Creative Ballet students ready for the new school year. (Photo Credit Jessica Pino)

What is creative movement? I get asked this question often. With 30 years of teaching experience I have many thoughts on the subject and I’ll get to those in a minute. But recently I’ve been asking parents what they think creative movement is, and what it does for their child.

Parents mention the physical benefits—coordination, balance, and strength. Some feel classes help their child get a head start on becoming a dancer. But what I hear most often is that they are unsure what creative movement is. They simply know their child loves to move and they love Creative Ballet. And by the look on their faces during class, they do!

To this list add social and emotional benefits, children learn best in groups. They connect, interact, learn to share, respect others and respond to what they see. They experience the boost in confidence that comes with, “What a fun idea—I’ll try that again!” and, “I did it!”

There’s also cognitive development, the relationship of movement to intellectual growth. Movement can provide the connection between an idea or problem, and the outcome or solution. This is often referred to as kinesthetic learning and is being modeled in educational settings around the country.

There is another area of movement research that’s in its infancy—the study of movement on neural patterning or brain-compatible dance. The BrainDance developed by Anne Green Gilbert is one such approach. I have included the BrainDance in my curriculum since I was introduced to Anne several summers ago. Ballet Austin has supported me in attending her workshops where I continue to receive information about the mind/body connection. I’d like to share with you what brain-compatible dance education is and how we use it in your child’s class.

Creative Ballet Curriculum Director Joan Wolfe with a group of Creative Ballet students.

Creative Ballet Curriculum Director Joan Wolfe with a group of Creative Ballet students.

The 8 BrainDance Patterns

  1. Breath
  2. Tactile
  3. Core-Distal
  4. Head-Tail
  5. Upper-Lower
  6. Body Side
  7. Cross Lateral
  8. Vestibular

The 8 activities in the BrainDance are based on the 8 movement patterns all humans will experience in the first year of life. These movement patterns develop the foundation of all human movement and hardwire the brain for future learning. Moving through these patterns on a daily basis after the first year of life continues to support brain and body development in the areas of:

  • Sensory-Motor Development; eye tracking, balance, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, focus, sensory integration, and memory.
  • Increased flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.
  • Increased core strength, postural strength, and coordination.

At the beginning of each class, we explore each pattern by integrating dance concepts and using a variety of movements, dance games, songs, and props. This allows for a balance of repetition and imagination that keeps children engaged.

creative-ballet

How the Patterns Develop

  • Babies do their own BrainDance very naturally in the first twelve months of life, especially if placed on their tummies as much as possible during infancy.
  • Baby’s first breath starts the wires growing from the brain cells.
  • Tactile stimulation begins with the first touch of skin on skin and is essential for promoting appropriate behavior and emotional and social intelligence.
  • In the first two months of life, the baby will reach into space in order to connect with her environment and curl back into the womb position, demonstrating the core-distal.
  • At two months, the baby has better head control and will lift and turn the head in both directions continuing the head-tail pattern begun at birth.
  • Discovering the upper and lower body halves comes next as the baby pushes with the arms and hands and then with feet and knees.
  • Between five and seven months, the baby reaches with one side of the body, moving the left half of the body as one unit and then the right half. As the baby crawls on her belly she will develop horizontal eye tracking.
  • Between seven and nine months, baby pushes herself up onto hands and knees and begins a cross lateral reach from the upper body. Vertical eye tracking is part of the growth triggered by creeping on hands and knees. The convergence of horizontal and vertical eye tracking is essential for reading. From one year onward cross lateral patterns appear in walking, running and eventually skipping.
  • The vestibular system begins developing in utero and continues to be very active through the first fifteen months as baby rolls, crawls, creeps, sits up, and walks. The vestibular system analyzes movements through the whole body, helps us know where we are in space and links up to all forms of sensory information. This very important system is used when we read, hear, speak, touch, balance, and move. Every movement stimulates the vestibular system which stimulates the brain.

I know firsthand the joy children experience when dancing. Now we can explore the fascinating science behind the dance.   If you would like to find out more, please visit:

Amazing Babies Moving
Creative Dance

Parent Watch Week

To see the BrainDance in action, as well as all the other amazing things your children do, mark your calendars for our first observation day during your child’s regular class time the week of October 19 – 24. Families welcome.