Tag Archives: Ballet Austin Academy

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.

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.


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.

The Inside Scoop On Fête and fête*ish 2015

By Christi Cuellar Lotz, Director of Development

Scene from Fête 2014

Fabulous table decor from Fête 2014

Fête and fête*ish 2015 are this Friday! Ballet Austin is excited to announce a new partnership with Fashion X Austin (otherwise known as Austin Fashion Week). They’re also one of our media partners for the event. They caught up with Laura Villagran Johnson of Austin Social Planner last week for some inside scoop on the event as it takes shape and prepares to be the best ever!

Read full article on Fashion X.

Spending My Summer Vacation With Ballet Austin

By Bill Piner, Academy Director  

Ahhh… Summertime in Austin. The time when everything slows to a crawl. The sun is high in the sky and temps top 100. Everyone heads to the lake, or to cooler climes in northern states. You would think it would be nice and quiet at 501 W. 3rd St. But you’d be wrong.

Summertime is actually one of the busiest seasons at Ballet Austin. Classes at the Butler Center for Dance & Fitness are packed 7 days a week for the entire summer and the Academy’s Senior Summer Intensive Program brings students from as far away as Japan and Panama to Austin for six weeks of intensive study and potential job opportunities.

Ballet Austin Summer Intensive Level 8 (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Ballet Austin Summer Intensive Level 8 (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Each summer, after a 27 city audition tour, over 250 students descend on Austin.
They come here to take part in a program that is designed to improve their individual dance skills. For the post-high school crowd, they audition for a coveted position in Ballet Austin II, Ballet Austin’s paid apprentice company, or the Butler Fellowship Program, a nine-month, intensive training program that provides 15 talented students the opportunity to train at Ballet Austin tuition-free.

A Day In The Life

This is a very concentrated and intensive time for the Academy. From 8:45am to 6:15pm the studios are filled to capacity with some of the most focused young adults you will find. From my office I can look into the Armstrong/Connelly Studio. Right now the Level 6 dancers are learning a piece of original choreography from Company Dancer and Academy faculty member, Christopher Swaim, which they will perform at a small performance at the end of the session. Chris’ choreography pushes these young dancers to new limits and challenges them to take risks and find new strengths.

For the highest levels it’s all about learning what’s unique about Ballet Austin and assimilating. Will they be accepted into the year-round program or not? Will this be the next step in their personal and professional lives or not? There is a lot riding on these few weeks and it can be a nerve-wracking experience.

“I chose to spend my summer training at Ballet Austin because I was looking for an opportunity to further my dance career. Having just graduated from high school, I wanted to come to a program where I could possibly stay for the 2015-2016 season, and I knew that Ballet Austin could provide an opportunity for me. Ballet Austin’s summer program has reinforced the technique I know, expanded my artistry and allowed me to think differently about my dancing. Not only have I grown as a dancer in just four weeks, but I have also met new people with whom I have become extremely close. My classmates and I have had different yet relatable experiences. Even though some of us may be competing against each other to get a position as a Fellow or Ballet Austin II member, we all share one similar trait: the love for dance. This similarity allows for friendships to be created which aid the extremely memorable and enriching experience here at Ballet Austin.” –  Kayla Hallman

Kayla will be joining the Butler Fellowship Program in August.


Associate Artistic Director Michelle Martin correcting a student’s position. (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

I choreograph on the two youngest levels in the program, where they are still struggling to find the control over their bodies that will enable them to make the prescribed shapes of classical ballet. The pace is slower, but the sense of accomplishment is just as great. When the entire group performs for an audience of their peers (final rehearsal on performance day is performed in front of the other levels in the program) and the cheers of approval erupt, I’m reminded why I chose this profession. This struggle, this mastery, this acceptance is something they all can relate to and it seals a bond that will stay with these young artists well beyond their six weeks in Austin.

Teaching (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Bill Piner, Academy Director, rehearsing with Level 4 student for upcoming Summer Intensive performance. (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

These bonds and friendships, challenges and growth, fun and hard work, all combine to make the Summer Intensive experience one that will live with these dancers forever. This is a huge commitment and requires dedication and sacrifice from the entire family. This is another aspect of the program that I find inspiring – the fact that parents will do everything in their power to provide the best for their kids. And the fact that these kids will take that challenge and some of them will become professional dancers. Over 70% of Ballet Austin’s professional company of dancers started right here in the Summer Intensive. For them, and many others, the sweating, struggling, laughing and learning ended with the ultimate goal, a professional contract and the realization of so many dreams and aspirations.

This is how I’ve spent my summer for the past 24 years. It may not be as relaxing as going to the coast, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

Ballet Austin Academy Open for Registration

Fall registration for the 2011/12 Academy school year is in full swing, and the Academy has something to offer every student, beginning as young as even 3 years old.

Creative Movement classes, designed for children ages 3-5, take the approach of “creative play” and are designed to hone motor skills, while educating children on movement. Classes meet once a week and offer “movement stories and ballet-based activities” appropriate for both boys and girls.

When children turn 5, they and their parents are given the option of moving onto our Pre-Ballet program, which is open to children ages 5-7. Pre-Ballet is more structured than creative movement, and serves as a transition between Creative Movement and when formal training begins at age 8, in Level 1.

In both our Creative Movement and Pre-Ballet programs, faculty in the Ballet Austin Academy place high emphasis on curriculum and age-appropriate teaching. Through these classes, we provide a place for children to not only have fun, but also take the opportunity to prepare themselves for a quality dance education. We believe that upholding excellence and professionalism starts with providing quality dance instruction at the youngest age possible.

At age 8, students may join Level 1 in the Lower School, marking their first step to professional ballet training. This age and level also mean another very special landmark: the age where Academy students have the opportunity to be cast in The Nutcracker! Each year, over 200 Academy students are cast our annual production exclusively.

If you are interested in enrolling your child, please check the Ballet Austin Academy‘s website for more detailed information, including new student registration forms.

Please note: students new to Ballet Austin but with prior experience, who are 8 and older, are required to attend a placement class. Dates, times and other important details are below.

Placement Class:
August 20, 2011
Ages 8-12 | 2-3:30pm
Ages 13 and older | 3:30-5pm
Note: Please arrive 30 minutes early for check-in

First Day of Class:
August 29, 2011


Photos by Anne Marie Melendez.


Who says the telephone party line is a thing of the past?

Ever since Alexander Graham Bell transmitted his voice into the back room of his science lab, the telephone has been a necessity of life. Back in the day, I remember my grandma sharing a phone line with many of the folk from her small town in eastern Washington; the telephone party line. Party lines were not always a party; people could listen in on calls (what we call eavesdropping), and they had to compete for phone time with the entire town. Telephone party lines as they once were known may be a thing of the past, but every spring I experience a different sort of telephone party line.

Beginning the first weekend in January Ballet Austin artistic staff travel all of the United States to audition students for Ballet Austin’s Summer Intensive.  They see hundreds of students from coast to coast. My favorite part of this process is when they come home. I am handed a white binder containing the names of everyone who auditioned. I am the bearer of good news, “you have been accepted…” That’s when the party begins! Who doesn’t love to give good news? I am no exception. This year I talked to about 500 students to let them know that they are invited to attend Ballet Austin’s Summer Intensive. When I share the news with them in a personal conversation over the phone, a simple call becomes a celebration; a party. 

From Dunwoody, Georgia to Kenosha, Wisconsin; from Port Moody, British Columbia to Miami, Florida; from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine; the telephone party line is almost always the same. Screams, tears, and cheers from excited students rejoicing over the news. Some respond in disbelief, some in relief, but all with appreciation and anticipation as they look towards summer. Countless hours of class, miles traveled to audition, passion, dedication, and commitment bring opportunity for summer.  For the student it’s all about dance. For me, these telephone parties are just the beginning of new relationships; an opportunity for Ballet Austin to reach across 50 states. Who says the telephone party line is a thing of the past?

Video: Ballet Austin’s Butler Dance Education Center

When discussions began at Ballet Austin about relocating from our longtime home in an historic firehouse near the University of Texas campus, there were countless motivations at play. One of the paramount goals was to house all of the things we do – our Academy, our open Butler Community School classes, the professional Company, and the artistic and administrative staffs – under one roof. And when the leadership and Board of Ballet Austin located a former printing warehouse in the heart of a burgeoning entertainment district in downtown Austin, they knew that this building could not only meet that goal, but that it also had the potential bring dance to a much wider audience in Austin.

At that point, though, it was still just a warehouse with the lingering scent of printing ink. So we enlisted the help of the architect Marla Bommarito and the Bommarito Group to help transform an industrial space into one that could accommodate the many facets of Ballet Austin. Marla and her team laid out a plan that included cutting many windows into the exterior walls, as well as building studios with windows to the corridors in the building. This makes for an environment in which, no matter where you are in the building, you can see dance happening at all times of the day. On top of that, the plan included a 287-seat theater, offices, and wonderful public spaces. Out of this plan, and the generous donations of hundreds of Ballet Austin supporters, the Butler Dance Education Center was born.

As proud as we are of our building, we did not have a way to show the life of the building to those who haven’t had a chance to visit. And as much as we love the beautiful pictures we have, we wanted movement. So we enlisted the help of longtime friends and collaborators, photographer and director of photography Andrew Yates of Andrew Yates Photography and Beef and Pie productions along with editor Ariel Quintans of Beast Editorial, to produce a video that shows the life of the spaces that we are fortunate enough to inhabit every day. Although I am of course biased, I think the result is incredible. Check out the video above for a virtual tour of our downtown Austin home, the Butler Dance Education Center.

Clara Revealed

What’s it really like to dance the role of Clara? We sat down recently and asked this year’s two performers that and a lot more. Check out the video of Macrina Butler and Rachel Fresques to get an insider’s view of all that goes on behind the scenes of The Nutcracker.

Click here for more info on Ballet Austin’s 47th Annual Production of The Nutcracker.

ASSEMBLÉ – Bon-Bons Across the Nation

By Marlys Norman, Ballet Austin Trainee

So you’re in The Nutcracker this year – congratulations! Now that the initial excitement is over, it’s time to worry about costumes, choreography, and of course always pointing those feet. But where do you fit into the story of The Nutcracker? Well, it depends on your part. If you’ve been cast as a Bon-Bon, I am here to help!

In Ballet Austin’s The Nutcracker, the second act opens with Clara’s journey into a magical land. A beautiful Sugar Plum Fairy greets her and introduces her to a cast of mystical characters who dance and entertain her. The Bon-Bons enter second to last, right before the Waltz of the Flowers and the dance the Sugar Plum Fairy performs with her cavalier, or king. After a series of ethnic dances from Spain, China, and France, the Bon-Bons serve to put a little fun back into the show!

As you may have discovered, Ballet Austin is not the only company to put on a show of The Nutcracker and there are countless versions found across the country. For instance, Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) in Seattle, Washington puts on a world-renowned show that is famous for its elaborate costumes and more modern twists on the story. If you are cast as a Bon-Bon at PNB, your part is called the Commedia and the Toy Theatre. In their story, Clara’s old uncle accompanies Clara to the magical land of the Sugar Plum fairy. During this scene, he opens his long cloak to expose a toy theatre where little dolls are dancing around. Now, when you perform this part, you don’t actually have to dance inside a cloak, but the old uncle will flourish his coat and all of you will seem to magically appear!

Another company whose version of The Nutcracker is world-famous is the New York City Ballet (NYCB). You may have heard of a choreographer and director named George Balanchine. This is his arrangement of the beloved Christmas story. To begin with, if you have been cast in NYCB’s The Nutcracker, congratulations; only about twenty kids from their school are chosen each year to perform with the company! Here, the Bon-Bons are called Pollichinelles, which is a fancy name for clowns. Like The Nutcracker at Ballet Austin, this part is supposed to be funny! The little Pollichinelles, or “Pollys,” as the company calls them, surprise their mother (Mother Ginger) by running out of her big skirt and beginning to dance. Four girls and four boys dance in pairs until Mother Ginger calls them back under her skirt. In Mr. Balanchine’s choreography, however, Mother Ginger has already started to move off-stage while her children are doing emboités to catch up to her. In all, the kids have to do a total of 32 emboités to get back under the skirt, and that’s at the end of the dance!

To learn more about different productions of The Nutcracker, explore these resources:

Ballet Austin’s The Nutcracker Interactive Dance Resource

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s The Nutcracker Video:
Nutcracker,The Motion Picture (VHS 1984).

New York City Ballet’s The Nutcracker Video:
George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker (DVD 1997).