The Unbroken Pirouette and Promenade of Mid-Atlantic BalletJul 29, 2021 01:19PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
Mid-Atlantic Ballet Artistic Director Sandra Davis was just one day removed from the company’s end-of-the-year showcase in June that would feature the talents of 17 of its dancers, and she still had a tangle of concerns to wrestle with before the first ballet slipper touched the stage.
It would be the company’s first live show in more than a year of COVID-19-style lockdown communication that forced Davis and her fellow teachers to instruct their students via Zoom, coupled with the realization that it would be performed at the bandshell stage at the Carpenter Recreation Area of the White Clay Creek State Park – an outdoor show in a season of torrential rainstorms.
These extenuating circumstances would normally be enough to send any creative person on the brink of a production into a momentary tailspin, but Davis has also helped guide the rebirth of a company that started in 1997 through not only a pandemic but a move this past January that took Mid-Atlantic from a spacious studio space in Newark to a new home on Lancaster Pike in Hockessin.
With all of that on her mind, Davis paused to reflect on the year 2020 and its impact on the company.
“We had to keep going, because we had no choice,” Davis said. “Last March, we were just about to partner with the Wilmington Ballet on our spring production of Snow White, and it was an exciting time for everyone. When the pandemic hit, it had not only a financial impact on us but an emotional one, because this is what we do. We have The Nutcracker, our spring performance and our end-of-the-year showcase. It is a ball that is constantly rolling.
“COVID-19 forced all of us – the teachers and our Board of Directors – to decide how we were going to keep our mission moving forward. I had heard that several dance companies were getting their instruction on the Zoom train, so we did as well, if only to provide our students with some kind of normalcy and familiarity.”
Like the virtual classes that linked teachers to students throughout 2020, the end-of-the-year showcase on June 19 did go on, with only a brief shower at the very end of the performance. To the community of parents, students, faculty and leaders of Mid-Atlantic Ballet, they are two indicators that demonstrate Mid-Atlantic Ballet’s unbroken strength, perseverance and definition.
Diversity Among Friends
Juxtaposed against the too-often competitive world of ballet, perhaps the strongest phrase that helps define Mid-Atlantic Ballet is “diversity among friends.”
Under the direction of Davis and Ballet Master Miguel Angel Quinones, its resident and guest faculty offer quality ballet instruction to students from age 4 to adult at all skill and experience levels, and every class no matter the level is structured to cultivate each students’ unique physical and artistic qualities. From children’s ballet classes to advanced ballet lessons to teen and adult ballet instruction, the door to Mid-Atlantic Ballet is open to freedom, self-expression, awareness and enjoyment of the art of ballet.
“In many ways, we’re all a large family, and our role as teachers is to nurture passion and interest,” Davis said. “Each of our faculty brings something different to the table and at every level of instruction. Consequently, that approach stimulates a desire for the student to want to know more, and since they are hungry to know more and do more, we love to keep feeding them.”
Learning how to dance at Mid-Atlantic Ballet does not begin with a competition, and the ballet barre is often not even used during initial lessons. Instead, early level instruction begins with acknowledging – and appreciating -- “Mind, Art and Body.” It is part of a “non-competition” approach that focuses on each student’s personal development – not preparation for competitions.
“A lot of studios teach their students to perform instead of teaching them to dance, and here, we teach boys and girls how to dance,” said Mid-Atlantic Ballet Executive Director Christine Reisinger. “In the competition world, dancers are trained to perform and give up a lot of much-needed class and technique time to focus on choreography, so they don’t receive the basic skills needed for ballet.”
“In pre-ballet, for instance, we explore body awareness and develop motor skills and coordination that will help them later on in their development,” Davis said. “Everything builds on each other and becomes more advanced and intricate. One of our favorite moments here is the ‘light bulb moment,’ where we get to rejoice with the student who suddenly clicks through his or her self-discovery.”
Throughout its history, several Mid-Atlantic Ballet students have gone on to pursue careers as professional dancers or dance instructors, furthering their education at such prestigious schools as the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, the Juilliard School, the Joffrey Ballet, and the Ailey School at Fordham University in New York; as well as danced professionally for the SHARP Dance Company, the Ballet Theater of Maryland, the School of American Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Colorado Ballet, and Columbia City Ballet of South Carolina.
Very often, those students who shine brightest begin their journeys at an early age, Davis said.
“We can begin to see some star qualities in a few of our younger dancers,” she said. “We recently offered a pre-pointe class, and I evaluated some young girls who demonstrated their desire to advance to this next level, and I allowed them to take that class because I could see that they wanted it.”
Throughout the year, Mid-Atlantic Ballet performs two full-length ballets in collaboration with other dance companies and professional guest artists at Mitchell Hall at the University of Delaware. In addition, the company produces performances of shorter works and mixed repertoire at their studio and at schools, libraries, the Delaware Dance Festival and the Nemours Children’s Hospital.
Each season concludes with the company’s annual Student Showcase that gives every student an opportunity to perform for family and friends.
With its end-of-year performance behind them, Mid-Atlantic Ballet is preparing for what promises to be a busy summer season of camps and intensives. From July 12-16, ballet camp will introduce children ages 4-7 to the world of ballet through dance classes, crafts, choreography, music and stories. Through the company’s Intensive I and Intensive II programs – offered in person from July 19-23 and July 26-30, respectively – students will train with guest and resident faculty in various forms of dance including ballet, modern, jazz and repertoire.
In addition, summer classes will also be offered from Aug. 2-27.
In addition to her role as artistic director at Mid-Atlantic Ballet, Davis still performs regularly with Quinones for the Philadelphia-based SHARP Dance Company. Prior to the pandemic, Reisinger and a parent of a dancer took several of Davis’ students to Philadelphia to see their teachers perform.
“What is unique about Mid-Atlantic Ballet is that our instructors are still performers,” Reisinger said. “It gives our students a huge thrill to be able to see their teachers perform live. In 2019, Sandra and Miguel performed the Arabian Dance in Act II of Nutcracker, and the kids were so excited to watch them and cheered them on from the wings.”
Teaching ballet to students of all levels and ages represents the other half of Davis’ creative soul.
“I teach ballet because my heart wants me to,” she said. “There is something indescribable for me to be on a stage. It is like my heart is absolutely open, and there is nothing like it. After a very difficult year for this company, I am so excited for these kids to be able to feel that same feeling again.”
Mid-Atlantic Ballet is located at 7465 Lancaster Pike, Suite L, Hockessin, Del. 19707. To learn more about classes, performances, COVID-19 safety protocols and providing financial support, visit www.midatlanticballet.org or call 302-266-6362.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected]