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16 Jan 2014

Advice From the Pros: Renowned Ballet Dancers Reach Out to the Community as Part of AAP's Dance for Life

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Nevada Ballet Theatre's James Canfield instructs Dance Dimensions students in Palm Desert. Nevada Ballet Theatre's James Canfield instructs Dance Dimensions students in Palm Desert. Brian Blueskye

Dance for Life Palm Springs, a benefit for the AIDS Assistance Program, should be a spectacular show at the Palm Springs Art Museum’s Annenberg Theater on Friday, Jan. 17—but on Tuesday night (Jan. 14), one of the participating dance companies stopped by the Dance Dimensions studio in Palm Desert to offer local ballet students a workshop.

The workshop, put on by Las Vegas’ Nevada Ballet Theatre, was part of Dance for Life’s community outreach program, which offers students at local schools and dance studios a chance to work with professionals in the industry. Dance for Life is also holding free performances around the community—and even has planned a flash-mob performance at an undisclosed location.

“This is sort of an extension of Dance for Life,” said James Canfield, artistic director of the Nevada Ballet Theatre. “Any outreach and awareness that you can bring into a community enriches that community. It gives these kids an opportunity to work with professionals who are in this profession. It’s really about awareness, because funding in schools is stretched and limited—and the arts is one of the first things they drop, yet it’s been proven arts can increase self-esteem, discipline and focus. It can do things to help kids in a different way of learning.”

Olivia Frary, a 14-year-old from Palm Desert who is a ballet student at Dance Dimensions, was excited about the opportunity to take part in the workshop.

“I think it’s really awesome that we have the opportunity to work with them,” Frary said. “It’s a really great experience and something I’ll always remember—when the Nevada Ballet Theatre came to our dance studio in Palm Desert, California. It’s really important for dancers to see other dancers all the time, so you always have something to look up to, and someone to have as a role model.”

As the students of Dance Dimensions warmed up on balance bars on one side of the room, the Nevada Ballet Theatre warmed up on the other. Students showed signs of nervousness or intimidation—until one of the staff members encouraged them to mix it up with the pros.

To start the workshop, Canfield walked around and sized up all of the students as he introduced himself. He immediately asked, “What are the requirements to be a good dancer?”

Turns out he had already given the answers to them during a short warm-up exercise—and some of the students had already forgotten. “Coordination and balance,” he said.

Canfield’s calm teaching method reminded of a Zen master. He adjusted students’ posture positions, had them work on dance steps and cracked the occasional ballet-related joke.

“What’s your favorite children’s book?” he asked some of the students. “Snow White,” one of them answered.

“Without the dwarves? I see how it is,” Canfield joked.

When one student said The Giving Tree, Canfield acted elated, and said it was the answer he was seeking, explaining that the 1964 Shel Silverstein book offers a lesson that applies to ballet: You give your body to the art until your body cannot physically give any more.

Canfield stressed to the students that ballet goes beyond dancing; it also takes personality and emotion. Oliva Frary said that fact makes her love the art of ballet.

“It’s a really great way to express emotions, feelings, unique qualities and different ideas through movement without having to say any words,” Frary said.

By the end of the workshop, most of the students were tired; many of the students were not used to performing as long and as hard as they had. But despite the fatigue, they seemed happy: It was surely an experience that many of them will long remember.

Dance for Life, a benefit for the AIDS Assistance Program, takes place at the Palm Springs Art Museum’s Annenberg Theater, 101 Museum Drive, in Palm Springs, at 7 p.m., Friday, Jan. 17. Tickets are $95. Performers are scheduled to include Giordano Dance Chicago, ENTITY Dance Company, Tap Sounds Underground and Los Angeles Ballet, in addition to the Nevada Ballet Theatre. For more information, call 760-325-8481, or visit aidsassistance.org.

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