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Carlos Lopez.
Photo: Jesus Vallinas.




Copyright 2013 Ballet Theatre Foundation, Inc.
All rights reserved.

Interview with Carlos Lopez
by Jenna Bitterman

We recently interviewed former ABT Soloist Carlos Lopez about his journey as a dancer. He tells us about his training as a young dancer, his performing career and his life today. After dancing with ABT for 10 years, he attended the ABT National Training Curriculum teacher training courses and is enjoying a freelance dancing career. He is currently on faculty for the ABT Studio Company and Summer Intensive.

Carlos as Birbanto in Le Corsaire with ABT.
Photo: Marty Sohl.
Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a dancer at American Ballet Theatre, where you were trained as a student and your performance background prior to joining ABT?

I started training in Madrid, Spain with Victor Ullate at the age of 11. Victor seemed to have his own method and he was very meticulous and picky with everything. I’ve been told that Victor was Vaganova based, but I was also trained by the Cuban ballet stars, so I also credit the Cuban school for my initial training. I joined the Victor Ullate Ballet Company at age 15 and danced with them for 10 years. I was a principal dancer there and danced a lot of neo-classical ballets and some of the full-length classics. At some point I felt like something was missing and, like everyone else, had seen the videos of American Ballet Theatre with dancers such as Julio Bocca and Amanda McKerrow. So, in 2001, I decided to move to New York to audition and join American Ballet Theatre.

How has your transition from being a soloist with ABT to being a freelance dancer and teacher been going?

Right now, really good. At the beginning it was hard I have to say. Dancing for ABT for like 10 years as a Soloist, in an established company, you get used to a lot of good things. They take care of you and you’re protected. You go on tour and all of those things are covered and you have a steady paycheck. As soon as you start being a freelancer, you’re on your own. You are your manager, you are your physical therapist, and you have to know when something hurts; when is it time to go to a doctor or not. It was hard in the beginning, just to be by myself. But, I think then I started to get going and meet a lot of people and lucky me, I’ve made a lot of friends when I was in the company and when I’m around. So, I learned how to make the best out of it; how you have to contact people and let yourself be seen in the studios and just let them know that you’re available, you’re free.

Has it been difficult to balance a performing and teaching career?

Well, lucky me, I was able to join the ABT Studio Company as a teacher and Kate Lydon has been amazingly nice to me. It’s great to be able to go away and do my performances, and come back to the studio and teach. So, it’s been pretty easy, so far.

Why did you decide to attend the ABT National Training Curriculum Teacher training courses and did these courses meet your expectations?

I was talking to Tina Escoda (ABT Artistic Administrator) and she mentioned ABT’s National Training Curriculum, when I was in the Company. I was too busy dancing and performing at the time, but I finally gave it a try in February. The courses exceeded my expectations. I was open mentally, in terms of going there, but I didn’t know what it was exactly that I was going to get out of the courses before going. You hear opinions, but I have to say that I was thrilled with how it turned out and the whole response of everything.

Carlos teaching the ABT Studio Company.
Photo: Meghan Love.

Can you tell us about your training and if the ABT National Training Curriculum is different from how you were trained?

Well, my teacher Victor Ullate has a really strong technique. He was trained with Maria de Avila, which apparently, I learned in the Training Curriculum, comes a little bit from Vaganova. But then he danced for many, many years in Maurice Bejart. So, that gave him a little bit of fluidity and more neo-classical dancing that he applied to the arms, so even though all the positions and all the base, it was very strong. The arms, he would make emphasis in how we made it fluid and made it more danceable not as much like classical positions. There are a lot of similarities in the ABT Curriculum to when I was trained.

So, what do you think makes ABT’s Curriculum, as opposed to other training methods, so beneficial in training dancers.

What helped me was how well the syllabus was structured to help with the classification of the steps based on the ages of the kids. I realized how important it is to go through levels to get to increasingly more difficult steps, which is not how I was trained. I had no levels, so I initially thought that teaching was very basic. I realized through the Curriculum that classes have to be structured to appeal to the age and level of the student.

Have you had a chance to implement the Curriculum into your teaching yet and if so, what results have you seen?

I taught a summer intensive in Mexico for one week and had three separate levels – beginning, intermediate and advanced. The advanced is easier for me because I’m still dancing and I know how to talk to the older dancers. It’s harder to teach the little children because I had to refer to my charts, to be sure I was teaching the appropriate material, using the right vocabulary and knowing exactly what I can teach for that level. I felt the arms were important for the younger children and that they move all together when starting an exercise. So, by the end of the week, I noticed that they all were moving together and they knew three or four things necessary for their future.

What are some of the most important things that you have learned, as a former dancer with ABT and as a current freelance dancer, that you would like to pass on to your students?

As a dancer in general, not just a dancer with ABT, what I try to pass on to my students is discipline. I believe students need discipline for themselves and for their art. It’s very important to take class everyday, even when they’re not dancing. They have to give themselves a rest, but they have to make sure to take classes because the classes will take them a long way and will help to not cause any injuries. Dancers should have respect, discipline, and have fun. Don’t get caught up with being perfect. Take a breath and think about why they want to dance.

Carlos teaching the ABT Studio Company.
Photo: Jenna Bitterman.

After you’re done freelancing, are you going to mainly teach? What’s your vision for your future?

I’m open to everything. After having lived in New York City and becoming a freelance dancer, I’ve realized that I have to be open because you never know where opportunities come from. I never would have imagined that I’d be a Studio Company teacher or anything besides being a dancer. Once you start opening doors, you can start opening your vision. I’m still able to dance and am still recognized and found that teaching has actually helped my dancing because it’s taken me back to the beginning – how I started; how I approach steps. For now, I’m a dancer, teacher and still even a student.

Do you think it is important for other teachers to attend the teacher training course(s) at ABT?

I believe artists never stop learning. If teachers want to be dedicated to something, especially when teaching children, the more they know, the easier it is to address any problems. Raymond Lukens knows everything, and the Curriculum gives teachers options. It’s not just A-B-C, there’s a whole range to learn and build from, whether it’s vocabulary or history. Raymond’s vast knowledge of history is great and he has so many stories and experiences in teaching to share, but it’s also about the experiences of the teachers attending as well. The teachers who come to the training program talk about their experiences and share what does or doesn’t work. It’s not about who’s right or wrong, but what works for each child and making them better dancers. I don’t only work with the most talented student because I never know what a student is capable of or who’s going to make it. Victor Ullate always told me it’s not about how talented you are, but how smart you are as a dancer. ABT's Training Curriculum can help teachers learn how to teach their students to use the tools they have to become good dancers.


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