Taking open ballet classes in New York City
By Violeta Angelova (V)
New York can be like a summer intensive program all year round. You can have a lot of one thing and a lot of everything. You name it, they’ve probably got it. In fact, I’m thinking of starting a doughnut eating class for professionals. Just kidding!
As a dancer, to have that availability and access to various types of training is fantastic. But sometimes, without direction, students and young professionals can get lost in the sea of options, lose sight of what and needs to improve, and waste valuable time, not to mention money. The teachers are splitting their thought in a hundred directions (some of the classes are quite crowded), maybe you can’t take the class often enough to receive more detailed attention, maybe you are visiting New York in the summer, perhaps you are going about finishing or polishing your training by way of open classes. Or you’re already past that and just want to keep shape. In this article I’ll try to help out and give some tips on navigating the whole thing, what to look for and hopefully getting the most for your money.
1.Know your background. You should know what style of training you’ve had thus far. If you are not sure, talk to your previous coaches, read their biographies; that should at least give you a sense. This has to do with my first suggestion of going to instructors who teach something different from what you’re used to. The nature of experiencing a different approach, phrasing, or philosophy every teacher has is akin to working with a new ballet master or choreographer, and one of the best things you can do when preparing yourself for dancing various types of ballets.
2.In ballet, we always improve. So when you go to a new class, do so with an open mind and embrace everything you can learn and add to the arsenal of your dance vocabulary. Don’t just follow the order of movements, pay attention to details: the musicality of a combination, the amount of attack a teacher might expect in a step, the corrections they give mid-way…
3.Don’t forget what you already know. Just because this teacher does not stress the use of port de bras as much as your old one used to doesn’t mean you should forget it. Keep all that, anything it might be, and add the new layers. Try to identify points of similarities and points of differences. If a movement is taught differently you cannot disregard. Only directors can afford such attitude. You can’t. Master it both ways.
4.Another thing I find very beneficial is going a level up, if there is one, or a level down, of your own (those going down – less often). For younger people the increased challenge, excitement of performing the fancier elements, and often, being in the presence of an admired dancer are but priceless in the development into a professional. For pros and older students going a level down provides an excellent space for re-checking those basics, taking more time with execution, or taking it easy after an injury or a break.
5.Don’t forget to attend your rarer, but all-important class of jazz, hip-hop or whatever. Not only is cross training good for your muscles, it’s good for your coordination, can do no harm to your ballet form (if there is one) and can open up room for movement previously unexplored with the ingrained repetition of ballet.
These are just some of the principles I use as a dancer and teacher.
Steps on Broadway, Peridance Capezio Center, Ballet Arts at City Center, Broadway Dance Center, and few other studios offer open ballet classes. If you’re new to the scene – research teachers, as well as locations, schedules, and class prices. That way you’ll know you’ve made an informed decision.
A single class costs eighteen dollars at most places. Altogether a high price for the rather not affluent community of students and performing artists. And competitors keep each other in sight, so prices are generally comparative. But there are a few things you can do to reduce the cost. Studios have multiple-class discounts, a professional or union discount, and sometimes – special programs that can help lower the bill. First and foremost your individual training needs have to be clear in your mind, and then work back to the class packages that are available. How many classes a day or a week you must take, will you be out of town or are you in town for a month only, et cetera. Next, request a thorough breakdown of the class packages existing and see what fits your needs. The catch is the expiration date. The twenty class series at Steps for example (it’s their cheapest per class rate at $15.5) is good for three months, after which you have thirty days and a $2.50 extension fee to claim any class left undanced, ahem, unused in your account. Broadway Dance Center has a ten class card that breaks it down to $15 per class, good for a month opposite Peridance Capezio’s ten class offer that comes down to $16 a class, but good for two months from the date of purchase. The best deal is the ten class card at Ballet Arts in City Center that offers a three month expiration date at $14 per class. Weigh out your options carefully. For professionals or Union members there is a brake on all classes that amounts to a dollar per class. Not much if you take sporadically, but if you go a few dozen times it will add up quick. Make sure you ask for that discount if you are a professional, because they are not going to guess you by face and apply it. Lastly, I’ll mention the Work/Study program, which is one of few available at Steps. It involves working there in exchange for unlimited, discounted classes and some additional perks. I’m not acquainted with its details, so research further if that sounds like something that can be of use to you.
Regardless of where you choose to attend, inquire with their management about ways to cut your cost. Be proactive, you might be eligible for something I’ve never heard of!
The discipline in open classes varies from teacher to teacher and it is pretty easy to judge the atmosphere. So whether you need a strict environment, or like more room to do your thing, after a couple of go’s you’ll know if a certain class is the former or the latter. Some teachers give classes at few locations, but don’t assume it’s the same level – always check. Also, a general rule of thumb: classes earlier in the day are more likely to be packed than those starting later. Your tens, ten thirty’s and elevens are convenient for a lot of people for obvious reasons.
Steps on Broadway is the most prominent place for ballet classes despite (or maybe because of) the poles in the middle of the studios. I will only go over some of the teachers there. It would require a larger volume than this article to cover everyone, everywhere. Please know I take open classes as needed, mostly around my rehearsals and travels. This is a brief review in alphabetical order.
Popular among ladies in Nancy Bielsky, whose varied class keeps you dancing without killing you. Wilhelm Burmann is one of the central teachers at Steps. Certainly his class is one you should attend. Elena Kunikova is a bright lady with a distinct class, wondrous when it comes to upper body use and balance, to name a few. David Howard is a name synonymous with teaching ballet and he gives classes in couple of levels there. Alex Tressor gives a relaxed-mood class with non-habitual combinations of elements in center work, and a good chunk of class devoted to allegro. Also, there are some wonderful teachers who teach only on the weekends, check into that as well.
Some broad info about the classes elsewhere: at Manhattan Movement and Arts Center there are no open classes in the summer, but they will resume in September, majority taught by Deborah Wingert; Broadway Dance Center’s highest level class is at 1.30 pm, given mainly by Jack Hertzog; at Ballet Arts at City Center the instructors in the intermediate and advanced intermediate levels, who teach most days are Ludmila Raianova, Kenny Larson, and Simon Kazantzev; at Alvin Ailey open ballet classes are largely geared toward beginners, but three nights a week there is an intermediate ballet class, taught by Kat Wildish; Peridance Capezio Center has more choices with multiple instructors with varied backgrounds giving multiple classes, the advanced level being at 10 o’clock, lower levels starting later.
In conclusion, I’ll quote Anne Woolliams, former directress at the Vienna State Opera Ballet: “Some exercises must be slow and some fast, and it differs according to the day, as well as to the students.”
I enjoy tradition as well as breaking routine, I like wide-ranging tempi and wide-ranging styles, and the good thing about New York is that there are so many premier teachers, there is always something to learn. Even if you can’t attend everyday you can take invaluable lessons with you. So go out there, discover and have fun!
Best of luck