The next time you find yourself walking along Third Avenue and 92nd Street, take note. You might be stepping along with the next primary dancer at the New York City Ballet.
The nationally-acclaimed Ballet Academy East is a hidden treasure on the fast-moving and ever-changing Third Avenue. What happens inside the studios and during their performances is pure magic.
Donizetti Variations, choreographed by George Balanchine ©The George Balanchine Trust, Ballet Academy East 2017 Spring Performance
Founded by Julia Dubno in 1979, BAE has become a powerhouse on the national scene in the development of ballet dancers.
Since then, thousands and thousands of students have spun and lept their way through the Academy. And now, the second generation of dancers is taking classes there.
Students range from 18 months to adulthood
Its students are as young as 18 months and reach well into adulthood. They fall into three categories of instruction, including the Young Dancer Division (3 to 6 years old) and the Adult Division (teens and adults at all levels). The third group, the Pre-Professional Division, consists of dancers age 7 through 19 years old who, Julia says, are “on the cusp of taking the leap into professional dancing.”
Given these differences in ages, there’s a beehive of activity at the Academy. Babies being tended to by Moms and Nannies, toddlers who aren’t sitting still, grade-schoolers who shout when they greet their friends and the older dancers who find some space to gab the time away. But when it’s time to be in the studio, everything stops. Order and focus and discipline and extremely measured motions take over. The only sounds are the guiding, patient words of the instructor, the beautiful, inspiring music of the pianist and the dancers’ graceful, refined movements.
From glissade to a tableau
BAE prepares its students to perform all the ballet steps, from an allegro to a glissade to a tableau, along with everything in between. They’re prepared to dance individually or as part of a duet or an ensemble. The students learn to put this all together so they tell a story or express a mood through their movements and the accompanying music.
But still, there’s a fine line between being a dancer and being an artist. As Julia says: “You can have a whole class with perfect legs and feet and everything you could possibly want as your instrument, but then there’s someone who comes on stage and connects with the audience like no one else does. That’s the artist.” Others might call it the “it” factor.
This is where BAE’s Artistic Director for Pre-Professional students, Darla Hoover enters, stage left. Formally trained by renowned choreographer George Balanchine while she was dancing with the New York City Ballet, Darla has guided these aspiring dancers for more than 20 years.
While she and the other instructors at the Academy can help students become more disciplined through repetitive motions, Darla recognizes the physical challenges dancers face. “Our human body was really not meant to do this,” she said. A means to overcome these limitations is by focusing, which is an equally large challenge for the students. Darla helps her students clear out the clutter during the session by engaging in eye contact and positive reinforcement. At the same time, she creates a light-hearted method for her students to determine if they’re performing movements correctly.
When it comes to having the “it” factor, Darla strives for her students to develop beyond the dance studio. “The most important thing to me is training the student as a person,” she said. “When they leave BAE they leave being the better person than they’d ever been.” This makes it possible for students at BAE to nurture more than one type of “it” factor.
1651 3rd Avenue
New York, NY 10128