Sweating the Small Stuff


Level 1 rehearses Puss-N-Boots/White Cat from Sleeping Beauty Act III

I have a moderate case of self-diagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  It does not impede my everyday life.  (At least, I don’t think so.)  And I would even submit that it often helps me produce better work. A few days ago I had to let go of it in the interest of putting kids in front of an audience with only a jot of preparation time.

I spent last week in this beautiful private ballet school at Lake Placid in upstate New York as guest faculty during its summer intensive.  Each day my colleagues and I taught youngsters whose ages and degree of dance proficiency spanned the continuum from zero experience or training to likely-to-land-a-job-on-the-professional-stage, and every point between those two extremes.  We were asked to prepare choreography for these youngsters–in addition to preparing their classes–which they would showcase for their parents after about four days of work.  This is a tall order but not unusual.  Summer intensive is just that:  intense.  So every day each student–from the youngest at age six to the oldest at age eighteen–came to classical ballet and jazz classes, and also rehearsed ballet and jazz choreography.


Fred Walton’s Level 2 & 3 jazz class

Despite my carefully wrought class plans and choreography, the truth that emerged after just moments into Day One was the need to tweak; the school director helped this process along by telling me to do it point blank. I was going to have to regroup and reconfigure if we were to make progress.  That is precisely what I did back at the artists’ dorm on my first night.  And I was not alone; my colleagues had to do it, too.


Misha Ilyin works with Levels 4 & 5

Still, I could not completely let go of the idea that I wanted my young charges to learn, to move forward, to improve their technique, even in a compressed window of time.  So I looked very carefully at my plans and kept the work I thought held the greatest promise of allowing this lofty (maybe insane) goal to bear fruit.  “Keep it fun,” was our mandate.  After all, many of these kids were on vacation with their parents in Lake Placid and had enrolled in this program because they were already there and needed something to do.  For me this mandate morphed into a challenge.  Ultimately what I found was that the overwhelming majority of kids rose to the occasion; they were happy to put on their Serious Hats and work like crazy.


Levels 2 & 3 work on choreography with me the last morning of the intensive, just before they performed it for their parents

On Friday I gathered my little ones (who were about six to nine years old) and explained to them how proud they made me, that they had achieved in one short week what they would have normally over the course of about six weeks in the academic school year.  I think they understood.

The performance on Friday came off beautifully, in spite of a few bumps and warts.  The kids did indeed move forward with their training.  New friendships (some of them doubtless lifelong) were forged, some realities about the ballet world emerged, and a (mainly) good time was had by all. I hope the community there realizes what a jewel of a school lies in beautiful Lake Placid.

For myself, I will dream of next summer and think of new and improved ways to compress time while sticking to high standards.  As I tell my students almost every single day in the ballet classroom, Spelling counts. (And thanks, Terpsie, for pushing me past the OCD.)

One thought on “Sweating the Small Stuff

  1. Sounds like you enjoyed a gratifying week and I’m certain the performance was delightful. Great to hear about this yesterday, and to see one of the boys in your photo!

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