Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

St. Paul Ballet’s Project Plie at work to reduce barriers to dance

Posted on 10 September 2018 by Calvin

For the second year in a row, Hamline Midway’s St. Paul Ballet offered a community master class in partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of America.

The annual summer class, called Project Plie, is part of a national initiative to increase participation in ballet to promising students of color. Project Plie was launched in New York City by its own American Ballet Theatre in 2013, and master classes like the one held at Mt. Airy Boys and Girls Club in St. Paul happened in 27 cities across the country this summer.

Laura Greenwell is an instructor with the St. Paul Ballet (SPB) and the school director. She is also the only Primary – Level Seven Certified Teacher of the American Ballet Theatre National Training Curriculum  in the state of Minnesota, and the only teacher who has been invited to offer the Project Plie class here.

Photo right: Project Plie instructor Laura Greenwell (seated left, facing camera) is the school director at St. Paul Ballet and an accomplished teacher. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Greenwell said, “This project means so much to me because there have historically been barriers to participating in classical ballet: financial barriers, racial barriers, and barriers around body type. Project Plie is perfectly aligned with the mission of SPB, which aims to reduce barriers and improve access to participation.”

In mid-August, more than 20 children ages 7-12 took a 45-minute introductory ballet class from Greenwell in the Mt. Airy gym. Project Plie is named for a foundational movement in the ballet vocabulary. The plie is a movement in which a dancer bends his/her knees and straightens them again, usually with the feet turned out and heels placed firmly on the ground.

The students weren’t told in advance, but there was a chance that one of them would be selected for an SPB scholarship in their pre-professional division (four hours of training per week). As it turned out, one student demonstrated what Greenwell was looking for: innate musicality, natural coordination, and a strong sense of focus.

“We can’t disclose who the student is until we have a commitment from the family,” Greenwell said. “We hope that the student will accept our scholarship, which includes funding from American Ballet Theatre for dancewear and supplies. Depending on how the student develops, financial assistance on our end will be reviewed on a yearly basis. There is the potential for this scholarship to be ongoing.”

Project Plie was inspired by Misty Copeland, the one and only female African American principal dancer of the American Ballet Theatre in its 75-year history. Copeland is quick to credit her success to the Boys and Girls Club of San Pedro, CA, where she took her first ballet class. She was sitting in the bleachers of the gym where the class was offered, but was too shy to participate. The volunteer dance teacher took her by the hand and encouraged her to try. She was 13 at the time and living in a motel room with her mother and five siblings.

Copeland quickly made up for lost time. Displaying remarkable athleticism and musicality, as well as a tremendous work ethic, she was performing professionally in just over a year. In 2000, she was invited to join American Ballet Theatre’s studio company, and in 2015, she became a principal dancer.

Through Project Plie and other outreach activities, St. Paul Ballet hopes to keep opening doors for dancers who face barriers to participation in the world of classical ballet.



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