Last Saturday was the year-end performance of the Virginia Beach Ballet Academy.
I had the honor of teaching the 9am warm-up class before the dress rehearsal. Dancers ranging in age from 10 to 20-something were scattered all around the theatre; some were on stage (clustered around the lone barre that was available and some using stacked boxes or chairs), and others used railings, walls, and the edge of the stage for support.
Microphone in hand, I communicated with the sound booth as they scrolled through the tracks on the CD of ballet music to find just what I needed. One by one, we made our way through the combinations; the energy was relaxed and loose, with even a few giggles as the dancers dealt with the challenges that the makeshift “barres” presented.
The dress rehearsal itself went very smoothly, with no quick-change problems and only a handful of spacing issues. I watched the first half from the audience, but then helped the studio owner/director backstage during the largest piece on the program, which involved almost all of the students in the school. The youngest of whom (5-6 year olds) were oh-so-adorably excited. The air in the wings on stage right was filled with loud whispers of “How long until we go on?” “Is my lipstick okay?” “It’s my dad’s birthday!” “My pop-pop is visiting today and he’s in the audience!” “I lost my tooth last week and I got four quarters and a nickel! That’s one dollar and five cents!!”
In between questions and announcements, I could see their eyes brighten as they watched the older students dance – mesmerized by the magic of their pointe shoes, the thrill of the high partnering lifts, and the glimmer of their headpieces. As the time came for the little ones to go on stage, we shuffled into their wing, they put themselves in order and away they went …
After the lunch break, it was time to return to the theatre for the actual performance. I taught another mini warm-up class for the advanced students so that the dancers could work out the kinks from earlier in the day. The energy was a bit different this time, with a few handfuls of nerves making their appearance. The dancers were smiling a bit larger, and speaking a bit faster. The adrenaline had officially arrived.
Once warm up was finished, the stage cleared so the house could be opened. I checked on the advanced dancers to see if they needed help with costumes, pointe shoe ribbons, etc. I confirmed they had all of their accessories, and that everyone’s quick changes were set up. They were ready.
The first act went very smoothly, and seemed to go by in a flash. Entrances were made on time, traffic patterns were issue free, and the dancers were happy with how things were going. After intermission, it was time to gather the little ones again and get them ready. Their energy was also different than it had been at dress rehearsal – they were just a tad quieter. They had a significant amount of time to wait for their entrance, and they were laser focused on making sure they didn’t miss it. “How much longer until we go on? Two minutes? Five minutes? Ten minutes?”
When the moment arrived, they lined up in the wing furthest upstage, and I asked them if they were excited. With wide sparkling eyes and smiles, they were. Their music began, and off they went again. I moved over to the downstage wing so I could have a better view of them all. One of the little ones on stage saw me there as she danced across the floor, and beamed a smile my direction. After she got to her place, standing still for a moment as she wait for her next sequence, she turned to me again and smiled even bigger. Her joyous face told me how delighted she was to be dancing, to be in the lights, in her costume, and out on stage. No words were necessary for me to understand that smile; I know that feeling well.
As the end of the show approached, and the dancers prepared for their bows, I looked around at them all and smiled. A collection of talent, drive, and persistence surrounded me. I’ve known many of these dancers for years, and seeing them progress and grow in their artistry never ceases to be a thrill. I turned my attention back to the little ones and one of them stretched her arms all the way out and said to me, “I love ballet!!”
Me too, little one. Me too.