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St. Paul Ballet is breaking down barriers so all can dance

Posted on 08 March 2018 by Calvin

In only five years’ time, St. Paul Ballet (SPB) has established itself as a thriving non-profit dance school and company in the Midway neighborhood. Their mission is to rejoice in the beauty and immediacy of dance with the widest possible audience, to lift the human spirit through the art of ballet, to provide outstanding dance education, and to perform a vibrant repertory with excellence. To accomplish all of this, they’re breaking down barriers to participation in ballet—one after another.

Executive Director Lori Gleason, said, “At first glance, the things that seem to get in the way for people are transportation and cost. Our studios are conveniently located just three blocks north of the Greenline LRT station at 655 Fairview Ave. We also have ample off-street parking. The first class here is always free for new students, and we offer many affordable drop-in classes.”

Photo left: Children in the Parent and Me class on Saturday mornings enjoy movement to music, along with songs and games. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

“Our philosophy at SPB is to address each dancer as a whole person,” Gleason continued. “Traditionally, ballet dancers have had a certain look. Members of SPB’s company created something a few years ago called ‘Take Back the Tutu’—which sets the tone for inclusiveness at the school, and shows that all body types are welcomed and celebrated. ‘Take Back the Tutu’ empowers dancers to claim ownership of their bodies, and to throw out the idea that every dancer has to look the same.”

In the past, SPB has partnered with the Melrose Institute and the Emily Program to provide information and guidance about nutrition and eating disorders. They also sponsor an annual health fair in the fall that is open to the public and provides a wealth of health and wellness information.

Photo right: The Parent and Me class welcomes Spanish speaking families, with the help of pre-professional student Emilia Garrido, who is a native Spanish speaker. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The recreational program at SPB serves about 300 students through music and movement classes, beginning with a class called ‘Parent and Me” for dancers ages 2.5-4 and their parents. This class (offered on Saturday mornings 8:45-9:30) welcomes Spanish and English speaking families.

“Not speaking English shouldn’t be a barrier to participation,” Gleason explained. “This is the fourth session that we’ve offered this class; it was the idea of Mary Coats, Director of our Young Children’s Program. One of our pre-professional students is the teaching assistant. She’s a native Spanish speaker who greets families at the door and translates as much of the class as is needed into Spanish. We feel this broadens the experience for everyone.”

Laura Greenwell is SPB’s School Director and an instructor in the pre-professional program. She is also the only ballet teacher in the state of Minnesota certified by the American Ballet Theatre at the highest level of their National Teacher Training Curriculum. Because of this, she is eligible to bring American Ballet Theatre’s Project Plié out into the community. Greenwell partners with local Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs in the summer, offering classes and watching for students ages 7-14 from communities of color who might have a natural ability for ballet. The goal of Project Plie is to diversify the field of ballet and keep it culturally relevant for years to come.

Photo left: Children in the Parent and Me class on Saturday mornings enjoy movement to music, along with songs and games.(Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Another perceived barrier to participation in ballet can be age. SPB offers an intermediate level class from 10-11:30am on Mondays and Wednesdays called Life Long Ballet. Taught by Anna Goodrich, the class is a magnet for people who want to keep dancing all through their lives. The oldest students are in their 80’s, with an average age of 60. The class is followed by an optional 30 minutes of strength conditioning.

“Dance is for people of all ages, as long as it’s enjoyable,” Gleason said.

‘Boys Club’ is a new class happening on Saturdays from 1-2pm. This introduction to ballet, for boys ages 7-12, is offered free of charge. Gleason said, “In keeping with our philosophy of treating dancers as athletes, this class emphasizes conditioning, flexibility, and strength, as well as technique.” A dress code of black ballet slippers, shorts, and a white t-shirt is required.

Lastly, SPB and their neighbor/landlord have created a partnership that is busting through barriers. Next door to SPB, Element Gym is owned and operated by Dalton Outlaw—a boxer who trains competitive fighters and leads fitness classes. SPB and Element Gym teamed up for a series of performances last year called “The Art of Boxing – the Sport of Ballet.” The performance will be repeated this year at 6pm on Apr. 15 at the Ordway Concert Hall. Gleason said, “One of the many wonderful things that have come out of our partnership with Dalton and his athletes is that more women and girls are taking boxing classes, and more men and boys are taking ballet. We learned that our two organizations have a lot of shared values around training and community building.”

To learn more about the work of SPB, call 651-690-1588 or visit their website at www.spballet.org.

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