Beyond the basics: Teaching a new generation of dancers

Patricia Godfrey teaches a ballet tech class at the Dance Conservatory of Pasadena. Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz

Dance Conservatory of Pasadena
496 S. Arroyo Parkway
Pasadena
877-345-7543, 626-396-1744
dancepasadena.com

By Claudia S. Palma

Bollywood, hip-hop — not classes you would normally find next to classical ballet instruction.
But in a time when new dance forms are continually being created, the Dance Conservatory of Pasadena wants to be “more than just a ballet studio.”
“With shows like ‘So You Think You Can Dance’, there’s interest for (classes teaching other dance forms),” said DCP owner and executive director Jennifer Cheng.  “It’s an evolution, or revolution, in dance. With these shows, it’s opened up a whole new world of dancing.”
In the Arroyo Parkway location’s three dance studios, ballet is offered for ages 3 and older since it opened in 2010. But interest in classes like children’s and adult Bollywood, an Indian dance, led by instructor Achinta S. McDaniel, continues to grow.
McDaniel is founder and artistic director for one of the studio’s resident dance companies, blue13 dance company.
“We’re constantly redefining ourselves — we’re bringing in new instructors, new classes,” said Daniel Coffman, DCP’s associate executive director and former professional ballroom dancer. “It’s so important to stay current with contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop dances.”
Cheng is on the board of Los Angeles-based Diavolo, a modern acrobatic dance company.
“Diavolo’s a cutting edge company,” she said. “They combine dance and other forms of movement to create a new way of expression.
“I see dance as an expression, you need to move with the new influences. Dance is a very intense and expressive portrayal of a story. You have to be expressive in your dance.
“People like (Diavolo artistic director) Jacques (Heim) are really expanding the way we think of art and movement.”
While modern dance and acrobatic seem to be the new direction for performance, many dancers can’t deny the advantage a technical ballet background has.
“Ballet is an antiquated form. But it’s the ballet that’s strengthening the other dances,” said Caroline Broes, DCP artistic director and youth ballet instructor. “Ballet is the basis for all forms of movement.”
Broes, or Miss Caroline as she is known to her students, has been dancing for 45 years and teaching for 20. She understands ballet is not as popular nowadays with youth as other dance forms can be.
“Because it’s so structured, it’s seen as hard,” she said. “It truly takes a certain type of person to stay motivated and want to continue.”
Many dancers who studied ballet for years, such as Broes and Cheng, are fearful that ballet will be non-existent in a few years.
“We’re trying to provide the foundation, teaching the classical technique,” said Cheng. “Even if you just want to be a good dancer, you have to learn ballet.”
Broes has her ways to catch and keep a child’s interest in ballet.
“What I do is try to make it fun so they will want to come back. You have to be so creative,” she said. “I’m very funny – and strict. I can push them and then make them laugh.”
Cheng said the studio offers classes in other forms of dance for those young students who lose interest in ballet as they get older.
“Ballet is always the core, but like (the performance company) Cirque du Soleil, (the next thing) is acrobatics, dance, martial arts and combining various dance forms and movement,” she said.
Believing that dancing is for everyone with the desire, DCP offers the first class free to new students and keeps class fees low and on a per-class basis. Class packages offer discounts and freedom to switch classes when needed or if one gets the itch to try a new dance.
Classes for children are as low as $15 per class.
“The fees are very reasonable,” said Felicia Eahadosingh of Pasadena, whose 7-year-old daughter began taking children’s Bollywood classes in August. “The instructors are very personable. She (dances) all the time anyway.”
Though the majority of the young students at DCP are girls, boys occasionally give the classes a try, especially the hip-hop classes.
The class schedule changes almost seasonally, except the adult open ballet and Miss Caroline’s ballet classes.
DCP began offering scholarships for ballet technique classes last year for ages 8 to 12 and ages 13 to 17. Scholarship students attend class four times a week with instructor Patricia Godfrey.
For scholarship student Claire Ganguin of Pasadena, the scholarship was a great fit as she had already been taking classes from Miss Caroline.
“I’ve been doing ballet since I was 3. I first started it for fun, then I kind of progressed from there,” said the 13-year-old.
Claire said she has performed the Pasadena Nutcracker as well as other smaller productions before and for now is planning to continue with ballet and hopefully dance professionally in the future.
“I’m also trying out different techniques (dances),” said Claire.
Dancers can take summers off or enjoy the week-long camps offered at the studio such as Hip-Hop Camp, Tiny Dancer and Cinderella Camps.

Opening up a dance studio was more than just a business decision for Cheng.
After being classically trained in ballet through most of her youth, she went a separate direction in college and instead of pursuing a professional dance career decided to become a lawyer.
After many years away from a studio, at age 47, Cheng decided to take a class where she “fell in love with ballet all over again.”
With her twin boys now grown, it freed up the Pasadena native’s time a little and she decided she wanted to get back into dance somehow.
“It was an epiphany,” she said.
It was also great timing when she noticed the studio building, then a former auto shop, was for sale.
“From the time I signed the lease to the time we opened, it was 5 ½ months. That’s how driven I was,” said Cheng. “I have a great passion for dance. I wanted (the studio) to be accessible for all dancers.”

The studio is Cheng’s first business and she admits to a few bumps along the road. She but she credits her staff and the teachers for making the studio what she envisioned.
“Dance studios are popping up everywhere it seems,” said Coffman. “ The quality of danceis our main priority, offering a safe place, nice facility, competent and dedicated instructors.”
The studio’s adult open ballet class is also unique and great for retired professional ballet dancers, or adults who would like to learn ballet.
“It’s hard to find a place where you fit. There are not too many places where adults can dance,” said Coffman.
For the young students, the studio puts together a few recitals such as The Nutcracker during the holidays and Swan Lake, all in the studio’s facilities complete with curtains, stage lighting and can accommodate about 100 people.
The studio will hold an autumn festival on Oct. 27 featuring various performances.
Feeling successful creatively, Cheng said she didn’t open the studio to make a lot of money.
“It’s an act of love, to keep doing this,” she said.