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SideBarre

It takes more than pliés to lift a ballet company to great heights. From dancers to conductors, teachers to makeup artists, this series features fascinating insight from ABT experts and an intimate look inside America’s National Ballet Company®. Take a spot at the SideBarre to get to know the incredible people behind each bourrée of American Ballet Theatre.

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March 22, 2024

Anabel Katsnelson
2024 Jennifer Alexander Dancer

When the curtain closes, dancers are no longer recognized by the character they play but by the kind of person they are off stage. In the rehearsal rooms they are leaders who strive to uplift and support their fellow dancers. Outside the studio, they are individuals who want to make the world a better place by being role models for future dancers.  

Every year, American Ballet Theatre recognizes a senior female corps de ballet member in memory of former dancer Jennifer Alexander, who embodied what it meant to be a leader on and off stage. Anabel Katsnelson continues Alexander’s legacy by being named this year’s Jennifer Alexander Dancer for her dedication and perseverance to her art form, the Company, and her community.  

The Jennifer Alexander Dancer embodies the professionalism, perseverance, and generosity that Jennifer Alexander showed as a corps of ballet member until a devastating car accident claimed her life in December 2007. The Memorial Fund was established in 2008 to honor Alexander’s memory and dedication to the Company.  

Anabel Katsnelson in <em>Swan Lake</em>. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor.
Anabel Katsnelson in Swan Lake. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor.

Similar to many women who have held the title of Jennifer Alexander Dancer, Katsnelson knew she was destined to be on stage at a young age. As her passion for ballet grew, Anabel began to follow the career of a number of professional ballet dancers, including former American Ballet Theatre Principal Dancer Alessandra Ferri. 

Anabel describes her admiration for Alessandra, saying, “I love how effortless she is onstage, and how she can carry a story so beautifully through her body language and movement quality.” Being able to look up to Alessandra guided Anabel to the Company. After attending the American Ballet Summer Intensive, Anabel joined ABT Studio Company in 2016 and became a corps of ballet member in the summer of 2017. 

Being a dancer at ABT is like being a part of a family. All the dancers support each other, and within the corps there is this sense of unity and camaraderie that is unlike any other company I’ve seen.”

Anabel Katsnelson in <em>In the Upper Room</em>. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor.
Anabel Katsnelson in In the Upper Room. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor.

As a member of the corps de ballet, Anabel recalls her favorite moment as performing Twyla Tharp’s “Bomb Squad” from In the Upper Room. Anabel speaks fondly on the performance by saying, “Something about the Phillip Glass music, the smoke onstage, and the bombastic movement made the experience of performing so exhilarating. We were so well rehearsed that it truly felt like an out-of-body experience… I could totally ‘let go’ onstage!”  

Anabel continues her leadership off stage as she offers advice to the next generation of aspiring dancers. She wants to remind dancers of the importance of having role models but trusting their own journey. Anabel states,  

“It sounds cliché but my advice would be to stop comparing yourself to other dancers. Everyone is on their own path! I like to think that when I’m watching someone dance it should be informative or inspiring, but never negative or self-deprecating. While it’s something I am still working on, I’ve learned that negative self-talk only stifles the growing process.”

Anabel Katsnelson’s leadership on and off stage and her dedication to being a role model is a wonderful reminder of Jennifer Alexander’s spirit and love that she had for American Ballet Theatre. She carries this title with the respect and grace that it deserves.    

The writer, Camron Wright, is the Press Intern for Spring 2024.

December 8, 2023

In The Nutcracker, ABT Studio Company Dancers take the stage!

ABT Studio Company and apprentice dancers backstage <rm>The Nutcracker</em> in 2022. Photo: João Menegussi.
ABT Studio Company and apprentice dancers backstage The Nutcracker in 2022. Photo: João Menegussi.

For many dancers, their first memories of ballet are sugarplum fairies and dancing mice. The Nutcracker has a unique tradition of incorporating students and pre-professional dancers into the production, allowing budding ballet dancers to take the stage among starring Principals.  

This holiday season, several dancers from ABT Studio Company will be joining the main Company at Segerstrom Center of the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, for ABT’s The Nutcracker. Read below to learn more about ABT Studio Company dancers Lilia Greyeyes, Brady Farrar, Vince Pelegrin, and Max Barker and their unique perspective on this Nutcracker season.  

Max Barker

Tell us a bit about your background, where you are from, and your history with dance. 

I began my ballet journey at the ABT JKO School at age 4, continuing until 2020. After a year at The Royal Ballet School, joining ABT Studio Company has been a full circle experience for me.

How did you view The Nutcracker when you were younger? Do you have any childhood memories surrounding the tradition? 

I first watched ABT’s The Nutcracker when I was eight years old, and I can vividly remember the magic that was created with its enchanting story, mesmerizing costumes, sets, music, and incredible dancing. I have wanted to be a part of ABT’s The Nutcracker ever since.

Have you performed in The Nutcracker before? If so, how do this year’s performances with the main company feel different? 

In 2021, I was a part of The Nutcracker with Eglevsky Ballet, thanks to the ABT JKO School providing me with the opportunity. Now joining ABT’s main Company rehearsals, I am enthusiastic and curious to learn as much as I can. I am filled with anticipation to partake in these upcoming performances. 

What will be your must-haves when you travel to Costa Mesa, California? 

Given that I will be performing as a mouse in the production, some must-haves travel items for this mouse to be in top notch shape include protein-packed cheese bites, claw warmers, and an epic battle playlist to get me pumped for the fight ahead. 

What makes you excited about performing in The Nutcracker?   

I am excited to perform in ABTs nutcracker this year because it has been a dream of mine ever since I saw it for the first time. This is my first professional experience with ABT and I could not be more grateful. 

Vince Pelegrin and Brady Farrar backstage at The Nutcracker in 2022. Photo: João Menegussi.  .
Vince Pelegrin and Brady Farrar backstage at The Nutcracker in 2022. Photo: João Menegussi. .

Brady Farrar

Tell us a bit about your background, where you are from, and your history with dance. 

My name is Brady Farrar, and I have been dancing for 13 years. When I was 8 years old, I was gratefully given the opportunity to move away from home for training. I lived in Miami for 8 years, and it was during this time I was introduced to ballet. When I was 16 years old, I moved again to New York City to attend the ABT JKO School. In fall of 2022, I joined ABT Studio Company. 

How did you view The Nutcracker when you were younger? Do you have any childhood memories surrounding the tradition? 

There is no Christmas without The Nutcracker. From the music of Tchaikovsky, to the magical story, this ballet is unlike any other. The Nutcracker holds its own place in the ballet repertoire. Every time I am able to perform it, I get taken back to childhood memories such as leaving the theatre after a show and reminiscing on what just happened, or walking around the mall and hearing the main pas de deux music playing. Nutcracker is iconic, and is a big part of the holidays.  

Have you performed in The Nutcracker before? If so, how do this year’s performances with the main Company feel different? 

In my first The Nutcracker, I remember dancing the role of Fritz. It was very fun to be able to act and play a character that reminded me of myself. In ABT’s version, choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky, I am lucky to be able to perform with the corps de ballet as a mouse. Taking on a role of something that is non-human is something I have never done before, so it is such a rewarding journey for me. 

What are you doing to prepare for The Nutcracker season? Are you approaching this differently than you would with other performances? 

Dancing with the corps de ballet is a very different process than dancing with ABT Studio Company. It is important to work as a team, rather than approaching the work as an individual. I am so honored to be able to participate in such an amazing production. 

What will be your must-haves when you travel to Costa Mesa, California? 

I will need my pink mice shoes and a healthy mind and body. And, of course, some Philz coffee. 

What makes you excited about performing in The Nutcracker

I am excited to travel to California, perform with the main Company, and listen to Tchaikovsky every night.  

Lilia Greyeyes and fellow ABT Studio Company dancer Audrey Lynn backstage at The Nutcracker in 2022. Photo courtesy of Lilia Greyeyes.  .
Lilia Greyeyes and fellow ABT Studio Company dancer Audrey Lynn backstage at The Nutcracker in 2022. Photo courtesy of Lilia Greyeyes. .

Lilia Greyeyes

Tell us a bit about your background, where you are from, and your history with dance. 

I grew up in Ontario, Canada, just outside of Toronto. I started ballet when I was 2 years old, so it’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember! I trained at Canada’s National Ballet School for 6 years before attending ABT’s Summer Intensive and joining the ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in fall 2022. I joined ABT Studio Company in January 2023. 

How did you view The Nutcracker when you were younger? Do you have any childhood memories surrounding the tradition? 

The Nutcracker is so magical! It was the first full length ballet I ever saw, and the costumes, sets, story, and music are a little kid’s dream. When I was 13, I got to be Marie in the National Ballet of Canada’s Nutcracker. It was such a special experience to be in a professional production at that age, and I had the best time performing! 

 Have you performed in The Nutcracker before? If so, how do this year’s performances with the main Company feel different? 

I performed in ABT’s production of The Nutcracker last year when I was still in the ABT JKO School. It was such an amazing opportunity, and everything was very new. This year I’m revisiting the same roles and spots so I feel like I can really focus on the quality of movements and how I can push myself within the choreography. I also feel like I’ve grown so much as an artist in the past year while touring and performing with ABT Studio Company, so I’m excited to see how that translates onstage. 

What are you doing to prepare for The Nutcracker season? Are you approaching this differently than you would with other performances? 

I’m making sure to take care of my body leading up to the performances, like getting enough sleep, and massage, ice baths, etc. when needed. I’m part of the corps de ballet dancing in Snow and Flowers. Since there are so many dancers onstage in those sections, every individual needs to pull their weight and be super aware of their spacing and timing to make the choreography and formations come to life. Corps work can be challenging but it’s so fun and rewarding. 

 What will be your must-haves when you travel to Costa Mesa, California? 

A pair of sunglasses, 2nd Skin Squares, and a good book! 

What makes you excited about performing in The Nutcracker?   

I love getting to perform alongside my friends and dancing with the main Company is such a privilege. The costumes and sets are so beautiful and it’s such a fun production to be a part of. Also knowing so many kids are watching, some experiencing ballet for the first time, is the most exciting feeling! 

Vince Pelegrin and friends in costume as Mice backstage at The Nutcracker in 2022. Photo courtesy of Vince Pelegrin.
Vince Pelegrin and friends in costume as Mice backstage at The Nutcracker in 2022. Photo courtesy of Vince Pelegrin.

Vince Pelegrin

Tell us a bit about your background, where you are from, and your history with dance. 

Hi! I’m Vince. I’m from the Philippines. I started dancing when I was 8 at Steps Dance Studio in Manila under the direction of Sofia Elizalde. My two older brothers got me into dance because I would watch them outside the studio and try their moves. 

How did you view The Nutcracker when you were younger? Do you have any childhood memories surrounding the tradition? 

I viewed The Nutcracker when I was younger to be one of the most festive ballets ever. With the Christmas holiday spirit in the Philippines being extremely grand and joyous, plus the ballet itself, I would always find myself watching the grownups dance, and I would be so amazed and inspired by them.  

Have you performed in The Nutcracker before? If so, how do this year’s performances with the main company feel different? 

Yes, I have performed the roles of the Nutcracker Prince, Russian, and the Doll. This year’s performances with the ABT main Company feel different because I know that we will have the most fun onstage performing Mice in Act 1, seeing my friends in ABT Studio Company in Snow and Flowers, and cheering for them.

What are you doing to prepare for The Nutcracker season? Are you approaching this differently than you would with other performances? 

I have been going to the gym since we have long breaks during rehearsal days at 890 Broadway and taking variations class with Sascha Radetsky and Herman Cornejo. I like all my shows being different from each other so it’s always fresh and exciting.  

What will be your must-haves when you travel to Costa Mesa, California? 

My pink shoes for Mice are my must-haves when I travel to Costa Mesa. And, of course, my sunscreen and ballet class ‘fits.  

What makes you excited about performing in The Nutcracker?   

Watching the main Company dance from the wings or the audience and learning so much from them and the whole experience make me excited about performing in The Nutcracker.  

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November 16, 2023

Emily Wong

Emily Wong at the curtain call for <em>Ballet Imperial</em>. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor.
Emily Wong at the curtain call for Ballet Imperial. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor.

Tell us a bit about your history as a musician.

I’m a “Juilliard pianist” and piano competition winner, but I’ve also had a lot of my own compositions performed, symphonies, an opera, chamber music, and solo piano. I’ve also been a very dedicated teacher, now for a select few since ABT occupies my time.

In your own words, describe the solo piece you are playing this season, “Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No. 2 in G for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 44” in George Balanchine’s Ballet Imperial.

… grand, brilliant, virtuosic, beautiful, and a lot of fun!

What is challenging or taxing about playing this piece? 

It’s physically very demanding, with lots of technical challenges and intricate work, and requires the stamina to sustain that for 40 minutes.

Are you doing anything special or different to work on this piece? What do rehearsals look like, compared to your own independent practice?

On my own I do a lot of slow work to smooth out connections and to memorize. And I daydream about musical ideas…

It’s fun to work in collaboration with dancers on building interesting nuance and phrasing, and work towards a common artistic vision.

What is exciting and rewarding about this piece?

It’s one of those pieces that makes you fall in love with Tchaikovsky all over again!

What does this season mean to you?

I’m thrilled Susan Jaffe has programmed this brilliant piece this season. It’s such a highlight!

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November 15, 2023

Evangelos Spanos

Evangelos Spanos in rehearsal at American Ballet Theatre. Photo: Emma Zordan.
Evangelos Spanos in rehearsal at American Ballet Theatre. Photo: Emma Zordan.

Evangelos Spanos, Greek American and New York City based, is one of the brightest and most promising pianists of the current generation of international performers in the US. 

He is currently holding a full-time position as a Company Pianist at American Ballet Theatre and accompanies for classes at School of American Ballet and Steps on Broadway. In addition to his work with regional Equity theatres, Evangelos has served/serves as music staff at the Kansas City Ballet, University of Missouri in Kansas City, and Lyric Opera and has performed for many opera productions at the University of Kansas, as well as accompanying master classes for Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Dance Theatre of Harlem, and Mark Morris Dance Company to name a few.   

In your own words, describe the solo pieces you are playing this Fall season, “Piano Concerto in A Major KV 488 (Adagio),” and “Piano Concerto in C Major KV 467 (Andante)” in Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort.

A condensed version of the beauty and sorrows of the humankind.

What is challenging or taxing about playing this piece? 

It requires absolute control and a delicate and elegant sound.

Are you doing anything special or different to work on this piece?

I mainly listen to performances of my favorite pianists as well the performance that was originally used when the choreography was realized.

What is exciting and rewarding about this piece?

The synergy between movement, music and acting. One of the times where dance becomes music and music is dance.

What does this season mean to you?

A season of exceptional music where all the pianists showcase their individual talents.

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November 14, 2023

Jacek Mysinski

Jacek Mysinski in rehearsal at American Ballet Theatre. Photo: Emma Zordan.
Jacek Mysinski in rehearsal at American Ballet Theatre. Photo: Emma Zordan.

Tell us a bit about your history as a musician.

I come from a family with rich musical traditions, but my musical journey began in earnest at the age of seven, when a new piano “magically” appeared in our apartment in Warsaw, Poland. I was fascinated by it and learned a few pieces by ear within the span of a month or so, listening and emulating what my dad would play for fun. A few weeks later I performed them in front of a few hundred children and parents at my preschool end of the year “graduation” event.

Shortly after, I auditioned for the music school in Warsaw and the rest is history. After years of working on the craft of piano playing (which never really stops), performances and competitions, I ended up at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York. This was also where I got my first real exposure to modern dance by participating in numerous school projects while I was there. That relationship between dance and music was such a powerful experience for me at the time, which I think led me to where I am today!

In your own words, describe the solo piece you are playing this Fall season, “Shostakovich Concerto No. 1 for Piano, Trumpet and Strings [Op. 35]” in Alexei Ratmansky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

Extreme, explosive, daring, sardonic, berserk! 

What is challenging or taxing about playing this piece? 

Capturing the ever-changing moods and character, often juxtaposed to the extreme from one phrase to another! Then of course the sheer speed and technical demands are very high as well! 

Are you doing anything special or different to work on this piece?

It’s hard to say. Every piece has overlapping yet different challenges and considerations to be aware of. The goal is to create an interpretation that stays true to the intentions of the composer and at the highest pianistic level possible. Just as importantly, that interpretation has to meet the needs of the choreography and inspire the dancers. It’s a very nuanced balance at times, which requires a lot of sensitivity, flexibility and openness to different possibilities. 

What do rehearsals look like, compared to your own independent practice?

In many ways they’re completely different.

Since it’s a piano concerto and not a solo piece, I’m required to incorporate the orchestra part in addition to the piano part into the rehearsal flow, so that the dancers can discern and recognize the most prominent themes as they would unfold in a full performance setting, where all instruments are present. That is a big challenge sometimes, since I only have ten fingers at my disposal!

My own independent practice starts and ends at home however. That is the foundation and it involves so many elements, which would be impossible to list here, I’m afraid.

What is exciting and rewarding about this piece?

On a personal level, seeing progress, challenging yourself, exceeding what you thought were your limitations.

On a collaborative level, performing a show where the movement and music became one! When it happens, it’s pure magic!

What does this season mean to you?

It’s a celebration of life really and appreciation for all that it is. I feel a sense of gratitude for having this opportunity to perform with so many incredible dancers of ABT.

On a final note, this Fall season marks ten years since my husband Calvin Royal III and I met in Studio 5 after Theme and Variations rehearsal!

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November 13, 2023

Nuno Marques

Nuno Marques in rehearsal at American Ballet Theatre. Photo: Emma Zordan.
Nuno Marques in rehearsal at American Ballet Theatre. Photo: Emma Zordan.

Tell us a bit about your history as a musician.

Having grown up in the European conservatory system and later completing my advanced musical education in London and New York, I am very glad to be working with such important and expressive interdisciplinary artists now in my career. Music and the arts have taken me around the world in performance, academic, and collaborative settings. I love playing all varieties of works at the piano— from the elegance of Mozart to the intensity of Prokofiev or living composers— and always have the best time being on stage and in rehearsals with friends.

In your own words, describe the featured piece you are playing this Fall season, Carnival of the Animals for the ABT Fall Gala Pièce d’Occasion.

Iconic, youthful, imaginative.

What is challenging or taxing about playing this piece? 

The most challenging part is performing with a second pianist at the same keyboard, and an orchestra behind us.

Are you doing anything special or different to work on this piece? What do rehearsals look like, compared to your own independent practice?  

I have to adapt my seating position, for instance, as this is a four-hand piece and I have to share the keyboard. So, I try to practice from the lower end of the keyboard, which is always fun.

What is exciting and rewarding about this piece?

The excitement of performing with an orchestra, surrounded by great musicians!

What does this season mean to you?

I find this season to be full of great variety, mixing more famous works with some less frequently performed pieces that create contrast in style and scale. I’m really looking forward to it!

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November 13, 2023

Meet the Pianists of American Ballet Theatre!

Music is considered by many dancers and choreographers to be the driving force of movement, imbuing steps with emotion and expression. With a live musician accompanying the dancers, this is taken one step further—the dancer can now feel the music motivate their movements, adding a depth of sound that is lost with a recorded version.  

Central to the diverse repertoire presented at the David H. Koch Theater in the 2023 Fall season, American Ballet Theatre’s musicians played classical scores of technical rigor and complexity. In many of these arrangements, the pianists held prominent roles in propelling both the score and the dancers. Learn more about the ABT’s pianists and their experiences this past Fall season! 

Carlos Lopez.
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Ballet BubblesGet to know...
March 12, 2021
On March 13, 2020, ABT’s Manhattan studios were shuttered due to the threat of COVID-19. While months of planned rehearsals and performances were canceled, the ritual of morning ballet class continued on, thanks to Carlos Lopez, Director of Repertoire. He began leading daily Company class over Zoom immediately upon lockdown. One year later, Carlos shares his experience in photos and thoughtful reflection.

"I’m still teaching by myself from a studio or from my living room, understanding that I cannot control what life is going to give me, but I can control what I want to do with my life."

By Carlos Lopez

It is hard to believe that a year has gone by, when on March 13 of last year, we were all sent home, not knowing that our lives were about to change forever. Who knew that the idea of teaching a class over Zoom the next day would reinforce in me the values of reconnecting, empathizing, and sharing with the dancers what we were all experiencing at the time? Every day, for one hour and a half, we supported each other by showing up. As I said many times to them and to myself, “Just keep swimming.”

In October, after many quarantines, I ventured into the first ABT “Ballet Bubble” with uncertainty and cautiousness of what was going to happen.  There were tests, masks, distancing, and protocols to grapple with, but the power of unity soon made us calmer, and we realized that we were the lucky ones! We were in a beautiful place, able to create, work again with people that we care about, and do what we enjoy as if our lives were back to normal. I will cherish every moment we had.

Last year, I was fortunate to spend more time with my family and friends and even do a project on the streets of New York. I used the time to reflect on myself, on life, on what’s important, and what’s not. We witnessed discrimination in our society and learned how to take action.

Now, a year has passed and although the situation has improved, there are still many people suffering all over the world. I’m still teaching by myself from a studio or from my living room, understanding that I cannot control what life is going to give me, but I can control what I want to do with my life. Each day, I’m hoping for things to get better, and, as someone recently said to me, I’m being a team player.

Carlos Lopez joined American Ballet Theatre in 2001 and was promoted to Soloist in 2003. After retiring from the stage, he joined the faculty of ABT Studio Company. He was appointed Director of Repertoire at ABT in August 2016.

Iris Wilson. Photo: Collette Bonaparte Ashmen.
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ABT RISEGet to know...
November 13, 2020
ABT RISE Weekend Workshops provide students from traditionally underrepresented populations access to classical ballet, while serving all communities across New York City's five boroughs in a warm and welcoming environment. ABT held its first virtual RISE Weekend on October 24-25, 2020.

"In my Afro Caribbean dance class, I give students the freedom to make their own choices, and I encourage them to reach beyond what naturally comes easy to them."

By Iris Wilson

In February 2020, Richard Toda, Artistic Manager of Engagement at American Ballet Theatre, emailed asking if I could teach the Afro Caribbean classes for ABT RISE Weekend Workshop. Overjoyed and completely stoked about teaching for a prestigious organization, I accepted the invitation. As I prepared my lesson, I knew exactly what I wanted to teach the young second and third grade students who would be participating in the ABT RISE weekend.

Fast forward ahead through a time where our world has been completely flipped upside down by COVID-19, police brutality, BLM protest, California wildfires, closing the city, re-opening the city, #endsars, war in the Congo – and the most chaotic presidential election cycle in recent U.S. history to top it all off – I’m delighted to say that I recently taught my third workshop for the ABT RISE program on October 24 and 25. It was a breath of fresh air and the silver lining in the midst of global pandemonium.

It is truly an honor to be a Teaching Artist with ABT RISE. I love the mission of the program, which is to provide students from traditionally underrepresented populations access to ballet and all forms of dance.

It is so pivotal to the development of the whole child. By participating in programs such as this, it enables students to better understand themselves and the world in which they live. It also allows room for children to be expressive and communicate their own ideas while being creative, learning new things, meeting new friends, and having fun.

ABT RISE Weekend participant in Afro Caribbean dance class.
ABT RISE Weekend participant in Afro Caribbean dance class.

While ballet is the central point, ABT RISE also offers classes in other forms of dance, including jazz, modern, hip hop, and Afro Caribbean. In my Afro Caribbean dance class, I give students the freedom to make their own choices, and I encourage them to reach beyond what naturally comes easy to them. I motivate them to take risks by stepping outside of what’s comfortable or familiar, to test their own boundaries, and to use their imagination.

ABT RISE students have learned dances from Haiti, Cuba, and Dominican Republic, as well as free movement styles found throughout the Caribbean Islands. I teach students the history of the folklore and to recognize the contribution of these cultures to the fabric of our society. This increases their understanding and appreciation of the diversity and value of all people.

Dance, as we already know, is amazingly beneficial for children. It builds a sense of community, and brings joy and happiness to participants.

In the midst of a pandemic where social distancing and masks are mandatory to save lives, we are all on edge and feeling the negative emotional impacts of isolation and being apart from one another. Now more than ever, dance class seems even more magical.

While children may not be able to dance in the physical dance studio and be physically close to their friends and teachers right now, the beauty of technology has allowed the ABT RISE program to continue to bring dance to the lives of children and to enable them to feel connected once again.

As I observed the children expressing themselves through movement during the workshop, I couldn’t help but notice that their smiles had become contagious. The presence of community was there and it felt so organic.

Watching everyone dancing together on the screen in their little boxes restored a new sense of togetherness, no matter how far apart we were. The magic was back in the same way it was before social distancing became our new normal.

Allowing children to unmute themselves so their voices can be heard was an added bonus and a special treat for me, as one student gleefully shared how she loves dancing and that my class was the “best ever” out of the entire weekend. This made my heart smile!

Iris Wilson was an original featured cast member of the three-time Tony Award®-winning Broadway musical Fela! and toured with the show nationally and internationally. She is currently a dance educator at P.S. 9 and a Teaching Artist for ABT RISE.

"By participating in programs such as ABT RISE, it enables students to better understand themselves and the world in which they live. It also allows room for children to be expressive and communicate their own ideas, while being creative, learning new things, meeting new friends, and having fun."

"I teach students the history of the folklore and to recognize the contribution of these cultures to the fabric of our society. This increases their understanding and appreciation of the diversity and value of all people."

"The beauty of technology has allowed the ABT RISE program to continue to bring dance to the lives of children and to enable them to feel connected once again."

Richard Toda.
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ABT RISEGet to know...
November 10, 2020
ABT RISE Weekend Workshops provide students from traditionally underrepresented populations access to classical ballet, while serving all communities across New York City’s five boroughs in a warm and welcoming environment. ABT held its first virtual RISE Weekend on October 24-25, 2020.

"As Artistic Manager of ABT Engagement, my role is to design and host the program and bring together a faculty to inspire our NYC kids."

By Richard Toda

As I write this, 48 hours ago we brought our virtual RISE weekend to a close. While the glow of the weekend remains, let me share about the program, my role, and some of the wonderful educators who shared their expertise.

The ABT Engagement team welcomed second and third grade New York City public school students to participate in a free series of dance classes and activities over the weekend of October 24-25 via Zoom. As Artistic Manager of ABT Engagement, my role is to design and host the program and bring together a faculty to inspire our NYC kids.

Everyone has different learning styles. I’m a visual learner, so in designing our RISE Programs, I visualize the flow of the weekend and how that will support our student outcomes.

The ABT RISE Weekend Workshop is an intensive two days offering almost three hours of dance instruction each day. Rest times are woven into the schedule, with snack time where we show dance video clips and breaks between class offerings. Our days start and end with community building sessions.

During the morning session, expectations are shared, including how to meet our teachers, more complex ideas of what success looks like today, and reminders such as, “Those steps I know, those steps can grow.”

The morning session is an important icebreaker to set everyone up to be ready and successful, especially over Zoom. It has also been important to offer students a variety of entry points to further their interest in dance.

ABT RISE Weekend schedules include a daily ballet class, followed by a pairing of either Afro Caribbean and Modern classes, or Contemporary and Hip-Hop classes for our second and third hours of the day.

ABT RISE Weekend participant.
ABT RISE Weekend participant.

We enlisted ballet faculty from our own Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School Children’s Division, Breana Reed and Alexis Andrews, along with ABT Teaching Artists Mariana Ranz, Carrie Demos, and Kelby Brown, to provide consistency with ABT’s National Training Curriculum. Students also experienced Hip-Hop guest teachers Shaahida Samuels and William Rhem and Contemporary classes with Justin Dominic.

As a former student in Newark Arts High School years ago, Justin Dominic had participated in ABT’s Make a Ballet program. He then danced professionally with Carolyn Dorfman Dance, among other artists and companies. What a joy it was to watch Justin lead and demonstrate Contemporary movement vocabulary with such rich detail for ABT RISE students.

Another admired dance educator who has taught at our previous ABT RISE workshops is Iris Wilson. Iris danced in the Broadway company of Fela! and is now a New York City public school dance teacher. She will share her perspective on the virtual RISE Weekend here on SideBarre later this week.

Part of our network is Harlem School of the Arts (HSA), an ABT-certified school. HSA’s Chief Officer of Education and Creative Programs, Aubrey Lynch, and Dance Chair, Leyland Simmons, lead a conservatory dance program for HSA students on Saint Nicholas Avenue and 145th Street. Leyland taught ballet class to our oldest RISE workshop students on Saturday, and Aubrey and Leyland together introduced students to the possibilities for next steps in their dance education at HSA on Sunday.

Our NYC youth are resilient, and like all dancers, they search out and find community. We’ve now had students who joined us in person at our 890 Broadway studios for our first RISE Workshop, attended our RISE Camp in August, and returned this fall for the RISE Weekend.

I’m so glad these students have found ABT RISE to be a source of community and fun learning experiences that deepened their love of dance. A few of the comments shared during our final reflections show their progress and passion: “I listened,” “I focused better today,” “I had so much fun,” and “I had a great time at all the classes.”

Richard Toda leads educational programs throughout New York City as Artistic Manager, ABT Engagement.

"The ABT Engagement team welcomed second and third grade New York City public school students to participate in a free series of dance classes and activities over the weekend of October 24-25 via Zoom."

"Our NYC youth are resilient, and like all dancers, they search out and find community."

"I’m so glad these students have found ABT RISE to be a source of community and fun learning experiences."