Knoxville Ballet School students at Knoxville Museum of Art, February 2012
Knoxville Ballet School students on stage at Knoxville Museum of Art, February 2012

The young director at the ballet school in Vermont’s Upper Valley, where I now hang my hat professionally, is enjoying her long-delayed move into a new building which continues as I write this.  On Saturday we will hold our first classes there.  This new chapter in the life of her fledgling school has opened with nail biting and hand wringing, joy, chaos, dirt, angst, impatience, jubilation, weariness, exhilaration–everything you’d expect at a time like this.  I know she is excited; we all are.  For the first time the three of us on the teaching staff will be working under the same roof, and significantly, at the same time, instead of on separate campuses as we have done while we wait.  Now we can operate in a creative petri dish of sorts, and that has been an important missing element in the life of this growing ballet school.

I admit I am jealous.  A couple of years ago I was in pretty much the exact same place my boss now finds herself, with a couple of notable exceptions.  First, I was unaware of the destruction that was about to be unleashed on me, on my family, and ultimately, on my young business at the hands of an errant spouse.  And second, I had been painfully aware for some time leading up to then that not only had I lost my emotional support, except for what I had in the guise of my devoted ballet school friends and families, but also I was losing the last shred of financial support that had been critical to keep the school going.  A slow local economy was the final nail in the school’s coffin.

I have had plenty of time to consider what happened to me, to us, to our family.  Some fleeting piece of it makes sense, but I doubt I will ever understand what would drive a person to become so reckless that in almost an instant he could wipe out so much of importance, assault-weapon style.  I feel the lingering effects of that still, every single day. But every single day I also think about what I built up, how good I was able to make it with the support of many, many people, how much hard work was poured into it.  And how some were hurt when I had to walk away–damage with lingering effects that I know never occurred to my ex.

Still, the school flourished during its brief tenure and left palpable signs of significant achievement in just six years’ time.  I am wistful, I am sad.  I am glad to have left my thumbprint in Knoxville, Tennessee.  And I am happy for the school being built here in beautiful Vermont.

A class in the early history of Knoxville Ballet School
A class in Knoxville Ballet School’s early history
Summer school friends
Summer school friends
A wax on, wax off kind of day in the ballet classroom
A wax on, wax off kind of day in the ballet classroom
Young dancers at one of the school's many screening parties over the years
Young dancers at one of the school’s many screening parties over the years
Frequent friend and guest artist Ryan Carroll corrects a student in class
Frequent guest artist and friend Ryan Carroll corrects a student in class
Louisville Ballet School Director Elena Fillmore Diehl gives an audition class at Knoxville Ballet School
Louisville Ballet School Director Elena Fillmore Diehl gives an audition class at KBS
Nutmeg Conservatory's Joan Kunsch, friend and guest artist, works with a Level 2B student in class
Nutmeg Conservatory’s Joan Kunsch, friend and guest artist, works with a Level 2B student
In fall of 2009 the school began using American Ballet Theatre's National Training Curriculum in its classes, and in spring of 2010 presented several young candidates for the ABT Affiliate exams.
In fall of 2009 the school began using American Ballet Theatre’s National Training Curriculum in its classes, and in spring of 2010 presented several young candidates in four levels for the ABT Affiliate exams
A big change in fall of 2010 was live piano accompaniment in many classes.  Here jazz pianist and technician Matt Coker disembowels and breathes new life into my late Uncle Stan's piano.
A big change in fall of 2010 was live piano accompaniment in many classes. Here jazz pianist and technician Matt Coker disembowels and breathes new life into my late Uncle Stan’s piano.
ABT's JKO Principal Franco De Vita, and myself, and a handful of the 2011 exam candidates
ABT’s JKO Principal Franco De Vita, and myself, and a handful of the 2011 exam candidates
In fall of 2011 students returned to ballet school in American Ballet Theatre's new uniforms; here three levels of Primaries appear in one makeup class.
In fall of 2011 students returned to ballet school in American Ballet Theatre’s new uniforms; here three levels of Primaries appear in one makeup class.
The Level 1A students in class with Ryan Carroll in their new aquamarine uniforms
The Level 1A students in class with Ryan Carroll
Some who have been at the school since they were quite young start to look like dancers.
Some who had been at the school since they were quite young really began to look like dancers by fall of 2011.
And in 2010 Pilates mat classes with Jay Apking became required cross-training  young KBS students.
And in 2011 Pilates mat classes with Jay Apking became required cross-training for many young KBS students.
Some of the older girls had their first pointe and pre-pointe training.  And plenty of silliness.
Some of the older girls had their first pointe and pre-pointe training. And plenty of silliness.
Mom, a master teacher and former ballerina, also worked some at the school when her busy schedule permitted.  Here she is seen working with one of her students who now dances professionally, and one of mine.
My own mom, a gifted ballet teacher and former ballerina, made occasional appearances at the school when her busy schedule permitted. Here she is seen working with one of her students who now dances professionally, and with one of mine.
In December of 2011 the school hosted what would be its fifth and final Nutcracker Tea party.
In December of 2011 the school hosted what would be its fifth and final Nutcracker Tea.
Kingdom of sweets
Kingdom of sweets
In February of 2012 every level at the school participated in its first formal performance, a lecture demonstration of American Ballet Theatre's National Training Curriculum.  The performance was open to the public, in the auditorium at the Knoxville Museum of Art.
In February of 2012 every level participated in the school’s first-ever formal performance, mounted as a lecture demonstration of American Ballet Theatre’s National Training Curriculum. The performance was open to the public, in the auditorium at the Knoxville Museum of Art. KBS students danced to a standing-room-only crowd.

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Parting images; the school's lobby, and Clarence-the-canine
Parting images; the school’s lobby, and Clarence-the-canine
Parting images; a view of the classroom
Parting images; a view of the classroom
Parting images; the long hallway
Parting images; the long hallway

And then it was all over.  I packed up my things and left.  But about the same time I was preparing for my move to Vermont, three of my young students who had earlier in the year successfully auditioned for American Ballet Theatre’s Young Dancer Summer Workshop were heading to the Big Apple for their first, big, away-from-home ballet school experience, at the epicenter of the ballet world.  I arrived to see them in their final classes and studio performance on my fiftieth birthday.  It was bittersweet for me, but I could not imagine being anywhere else on that day.

With all three of my students on the sidewalk at 890 Broadway
With all three of my students on the sidewalk at 890 Broadway
With one of my students just before class at ABT
Just before technique class at ABT
Technique class at ABT; the instructor was Erica Mero.
Technique class at ABT; the instructor was Erica Mero. From Knoxville Ballet School to American Ballet Theatre: a dream come true.
Another one of mine, front and center
Another one of mine, front and center
Two weeks earlier my girls were in placement classes on their first morning at ABT.
A couple of weeks earlier my girls were in placement classes on their first morning at ABT; here are two of the threesome.
And during their time at ABT they got to meet one of their favorite ABT/JKO students, Catherine Hurlin.  How very exciting.
And during their time at ABT they got to meet one of their favorite ABT/JKO School advanced ballerinas, Catherine Hurlin, who has helped out at the YDSW for several years. How very exciting.

It has been quite some journey.  But it is not how the story ends.

Youngdancersinsepia

11 thoughts on “Rear View Mirror: Photo Essay

  1. I absolutely love your honesty “I must admit I am jealous.” Well heck, of course you are. And yet through the jealousy, or pain, or fear you keep getting back up and going. Go you!

  2. beautiful essay, Deb. We, parents and students in the Upper Valley, are the lucky beneficiaries of these difficult changes in your life. So glad you are here!

    1. Julia: you have no idea how nice it is to hear that. I am glad to be here, too, and have enjoyed meeting my new ballet families. I look forward to what I hope will be a long tenure with all of you.~d

  3. It is so evident in your words and photos, how much you love your work and your students. I have no doubt that you’ll be as successful in your new locale as you were here in Knoxville. And after reading Julia’s kind words, above, it sounds like you’re well-loved there too. I look forward to hearing more!

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