Light on their feet

Abby Fisher

Non-dance majors leap into ballet, modern classes

Dancers of Erin Smith’s class begin with exercises that work their legs before going into a routine.

Credit: Jason Hall

Dancers of Erin Smith’s Fundamentals of Ballet and Modern class do a jump as part of a routine they have been learning.

Credit: Jason Hall

Piano music floods the hallways of the Gym Annex as Erin Smith’s Fundamentals of Ballet and Modern class assembles in one of the dance rooms.

The students gather on the floor of the studio in small groups to talk and stretch, waiting for class to begin.

The class is divided up into two sections. For the first half of the semester, Smith teaches her students the basics of ballet and will end the 15-week class with modern.

Patrick Clement, a junior musical theater major, explains that the modern portion of class is more free-form than ballet.

“There aren’t as many rules,” he said. “My favorite part of class is doing stuff on the floor and core work.”

Clement and a slew of his other classmates are often involved with the theater department’s productions. He recently wrapped “Honk,” and said that the dance class is a way for him to relax during the day.

“We had milkshakes last week,” he said. “We walked all over campus during our class time – it helped get our minds off things.”

Smith always warms up her class with a 10-to-15-minute combination that includes a range of body motions. Students begin by lying on the floor to work their legs and arms and will eventually come to a standing position to finish.

Griffin Parsons, a senior musical theater major, said starting on the floor is only a small part of the class structure.

“We also do some things in the centre,” he said.

Parsons explains that a dance combination in the center part of the floor will employ bigger movements, such as leg swings and brushes.

“After that, we’ll go across the floor and finish class with the routine we’ve been working on,” he said.

When the class is finished with its initial warm-up, Smith begins teaching steps that will later be used in a new combination.

“We’re going to do swings today,” Smith said. “Swings with a twist – a twist of lime!”

Smith demonstrates a leg swing that the class has been practicing and adds a jump at the end.

“Ohh, that’s a twist,” Clement says. “Jumps are always a twist.”

Moments like this are why junior musical theater major John Moauro said having Smith as an instructor is his favorite part of class.

“She makes class fun and she’s able to actually teach me something. It’s rare for that in a non-professional level class,” he said.

Moauro, who has previously taken other ballet and modern classes with the university’s dance department, said modern is more free-flowing than ballet.

“Ballet is more technical,” he said. “But Erin is able to make class equally balanced for everyone. There’s a lot of musical theater majors and non-dancers in here, and that’s what makes class fun.”

Some of the students, however, have been dancing for most of their lives.

Ashley Swaney, a freshman secondary education major, used to dance four days a week when she was in high school, and she’s not ready to give it up yet.

“I took this class because I love to dance,” she said. “It was a big transition to college, but I love it. There’s a lot of energy in this class and it’s a good workout.”

Senior community health education major Beth Patton can relate. This semester will be her third time through the class.

“I chose this class because it was the hardest ballet offered without being an upper division class,” she said.

Patton said she has been in some form of ballet class since her freshman year.

“This class is really good for me,” she said. “It helps me to see where I am improving in my dancing.”

That’s good news for Smith, who gets people of all different skill levels in her class.

“Every semester is a little different,” she said.

Judith Richner’s Studio Modern I class hosts dancers of all skill level as well.

Richner, who has been teaching dance since 1993, loves teaching the studio-level classes.

“There’s no prerequisite for my class,” she said. “Many of the students come without any experience because they have always wanted to dance.”

Richner added that some of her students use dance as a release.

“I have a lot of fashion students who are running on no sleep, but still come to class,” she said. “I think it adds some balance to their life.”

For new dancers in Studio Modern I, Richner is patient, teaching steps and movements to the class until everyone is on the same page. Richner also explains how parts of the body relate to one another while conducting the class.

“It is important to listen to your body,” she says to her class.

The students practice a running combination a few times and then are ready to try it on their own. That aspect of class is what keeps Richner coming back every day.

“This class is really rewarding for me as a teacher because I get to see the transition in students who have never danced before.”

Contact features reporter Abby Fisher at [email protected].