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Spring break brings intensive dance lessons for some

LOS ANGELES — Thirteen-year-old Holland de Klerk literally has been dancing all week.

But unlike other teenagers, she wasn’t partying during spring break. She and 60 other ballet dancers ages 8-25 participated in the Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA) On Pointe Ballet Intensive April 8-12. The four-day, concentrated dance study paired intermediate and advanced students with world-class ballet masters from across the U.S. and Russia.

This year’s featured guest artists were Lauren Anderson, former principal of the Houston Ballet, and Dusty Button, a principal dancer with the Boston Ballet.

During a special talkback session held for students on the first day of the Intensive, de Klerk, who also will attend Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s five-week summer ballet intensive in June, posed a serious question for Anderson.

“What do you do when you’re exhausted and you’re thinking, ‘I’ve just danced for two hours and I have five more hours to go?’”

Many of the DADA On Pointe Ballet Intensive participants were wondering the very same thing.

Like de Klerk, some students will participate in other intensives with ballet companies around the country this summer. Although most of the students have been dancing since the age of 2 or 3 and are accustomed to the rigors of dance, the intensive curriculum is just that – intense. Some companies have intensives that last five to six weeks, six days a week, eight hours a day.

Dancers participating in the four-day Debbie Allen Dance Academy On Pointe Ballet Intensive April 8-12 do stretching exercises as part of their training. The six-hour daily program includedd two practices in the morning and two in the afternoon. (Photo by Cynthia Gibson)

In DADA’s six-hour daily program, two classes are held in the morning followed by two more classes after lunch break. Students take master classes in ballet, pointe, character, men’s technique, variations, modern, graham, jazz and contemporary repertoire, as well as ballet history.

This is the fifth DADA Ballet Intensive and the second talkback. Last year’s intensive featured a talkback with American Ballet Theater Prima Ballerina Misty Copeland. Allen implemented the intensive curriculum to give students the opportunity to learn from and study with noted contemporary artists, including DADA’s own renowned staff. The talkbacks allow students to hear the stories of professional ballerinas and ask questions.

Anderson shared how she persevered with her aspirations to become a dancer even after being told that she did not have the “ideal” body type for a ballerina. Instead of getting discouraged, she pressed on – changing her diet and exercise regimen to develop the elongated muscle tone of a ballerina.

In 1990, seven years after joining the Houston Ballet, Anderson was promoted to principal dancer for the company. She was the first female African American principal dancer in the United States and, at the time, the world’s only African American prima ballerina heading a major ballet company.

“Hearing the stories of ballerinas like Lauren and Misty gives our students a sense of hope because their stories parallel the stories of our own students and their experiences,” said Debbie Allen, who hosted the talkback.

After hearing Anderson, 11-year-old aspiring ballerina Nia Robinson came away with a newly found understanding of the role confidence plays in the success of a dancer.

“Lauren has a bunch of confidence and without that she might not have been able to make it to where she is now. I need that confidence. I need to work really hard,” she said.

Anderson further conveyed that confidence and perseverance when responding to de Klerk’s question about dealing with exhaustion.

“Just take it one minute at a time. One class at a time. Do what you have to do. It’s all preparing you for the real world.”

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