Denton — While many ballet schools across the country are seeing a drop in their summer program numbers, the New York-based Joffrey Ballet School (JBS) has seen its enrollment rise and its programs expand over the last decade. And while founder Robert Joffrey’s teaching philosophy remains at the forefront of the school’s mission statement, its recent success would not be possible without some critical changes over the past decade.
The JBS was founded in 1953 by Joffrey and Gerald Arpino and has been known for the past 50 years as one of the premiere training institution for dancers in America. “Joffrey was always an innovator,” says Alice Alyse, a master teacher and artistic director of JBS’s summer programs in Atlanta, Los Angeles and Dallas. “He loved doing contemporary movement on pointe shoes long before it was the norm. He was also a strong believer in creating well-rounded dancers. The JBS is truly a breeding ground for well-trained dancers.”
But the school hit a devastating bump in 2007 with the passing of its long reigning Executive Director Edith D’Addario. By the time of D’Addario’s death the school’s enrollment was way down and its financials were a mess. The JBS was close to shutting its doors when Chris D’Addario (Edith’s grandson) and Lee Merwin stepped in. Together they cleaned house and JBS is thriving once again. For more background, read “The Fall and Rise of the Joffrey Ballet School” in Dance Teacher magazine June 2014 issue.
The JBS also brought on Alyse who, over the last 5 years, has expanded the school’s summer programs to other parts of the U.S. including Los Angeles and Dallas. “I never pictured myself as a director. JBS came to me and was very patient with me as I learned the ropes.” To date JBS holds summer programs in seven cities and two international programs in Florence and Moscow.
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Alyse began studying ballet at the age of 5. Her family moved to Miami when she was 11. She joined Miami City Ballet at 16 before graduating from New World School of the Arts. Alyse went on to dance with Sarasota Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. In addition to her role as Artistic Director of Joffrey West, South and Southwest, Alyse also executes many auditions for the JBS nationwide and internationally. She conducted the first Hong Kong and Singapore auditions in 2012.
The JBS’s Dallas summer program is already in progress (July 28 – August 15) at Texas Woman’s University (TWU) in Denton, TX. “We used TWU’s facilities last year and had a great experience. The studios and theater are wonderful and the dance department and administration have been very supportive.”
Students will spend three weeks immersing themselves in a variety of dance styles, including classical, contemporary ballet, modern, jazz, hip-hop, Bollywood and even tradition Chinese dance. In addition to Alyse, the faculty also include Chris Coates, master hip-hop and jazz teacher, and Mecca Vazie Andrews, the artistic director of Los Angeles-based The MOVEMENT movement. Classes are capped at approximately 15-25 students so, there is plenty of individualized attention. In terms of the dancers, Alyse says she is surprised at the number of students who are actually from the Dallas area. “There’s not as many international dancers here as we usually see in other cities. And the dancers here are really in love with the contemporary style.”
Through her experiences as a dancer, teacher and artistic director Alyse has seen firsthand how the ballet culture in the U.S. is changing. “Today’s ballet dancers have to be way more versatile and open-minded. When I started out you were labeled either a ballet, modern or commercial dancer. Today those styles are all mixing together.” Alyse attributes the blurring of these lines to today’s heavy competition, market demands and a dancer’s need to prolong her career. “A ballet dancer typically retires between the ages of 32-36, but if they are trained in other styles such as modern they could join another company and extend their dance life a few more years or even decades.”
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com