Archive for the ‘Academy’ Category


Where Dance Meets Education: Education and Community Engagement Teacher Receives Exciting New Training

September 22, 2015

Houston Ballet Education and Community Engagement is committed to introducing children, particularly those in under-served and at-risk populations, to the beauty and grace of life through dance.  Last year they reached over 39,000 students through various programming.  One of Houston Ballet’s Education and Community Engagement teachers, Ellie Blanchat recently returned from New York City where she attended the National Dance Institute (NDI) Teaching Artists Training.

ECE teacher Ellie Blanchat with master teachers (L to R) Kelly Buwanda, Ellie Blanchat, Emily Meisner and Kay Gayner at the National Dance Institute Teacher Training in NYC.

Ellie Blanchat with master teachers (L to R) Kelly Buwanda, Ellie Blanchat, Emily Meisner and Kay Gayner at the National Dance Institute Teacher Training.

The training is a two week-long workshop that gives participants hands on experience working directly with children. The workshop is led by renowned National Dance Institute instructors and is designed to deepen each participant’s understanding of the power of the arts in education.

This year, Ms. Blanchat teaches Houston Ballet After School Program (HBASP) classes and has shared some of her experiences from the training.

Describe your overall experience at the training program this year.

In the mornings we would work with kids in the NDI teaching pedagogy and choreography, and in the afternoons we spent time workshopping with the NDI Master Teachers. Each day we were given a task to work on with the kids, so that we could get some real time teaching experience using the NDI techniques. We spent a lot of time working on techniques to make classes flow easily, handle discipline in a positive way, and create interesting choreography. I learned so many valuable teaching tools, and enjoyed watching the children grow throughout the 2 weeks I was in New York.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned at the training?

The most valuable lesson I learned was how to create moments of accomplishment for each student in every class. At the end of an NDI class every student should feel successful. The teacher must create an atmosphere of positivity that encourages the dancers, and also expect excellence from each student. The key is really watching each child individually and finding out what success looks like for every one of them.

Ellie Blanchat teaching during this summer's , Jump, Jive, Move and Groove collaboration.

Ellie Blanchat teaching during Education and Community Engagement’s Jump, Jive, Move and Groove collaboration. Photo by Dancy Lukeman.

How will the training you received apply or be helpful when teaching Education and Community Engagement programs this year?

The HBASP program is based on the NDI pedagogy and techniques. Everything I learned in New York will directly apply with this ECE program; from the flow of the class and dance technique, to the choreography and final performance.

Ms. Blanchat is eager to put her new training to use as many of Houston Ballet’s Education and Community Engagement 2015-16 season programs began last week including the After School Program.

For more information on all of Education and Community Engagement’s programming visit:  



September 30, 2014

From September 28 – October 3, 2014, Houston Ballet Academy Instructor Sally Rojas  will travel to Guatemala City, Guatemala for the third and final installment of an innovative, international collaboration with the Organizacion para las Artes focusing on training dancers aged 12- 18.

 Sally Rojas

Instructor Sally Rojas coaching students

Spanning from March 2012 until October 2014, the primary aim of the partnership is to strengthen the burgeoning relationship between Houston Ballet and Guatemala, and also to raise the standard of ballet training in Gautemala.  Geraldina Becca-Spross, President of Organizacion para las Artes, commented about the partnership, “Sally Rojas is not only a hard-working teacher, but also very understanding.  The young ladies she has instructed were amazed at her deep knowledge of ballet.  We know that only very hard work, concentration and practice will fully accomplish our goals in the long run.”

 Sally Rojas coaching students

Instructor Sally Rojas coaching students

On October 12-13, 2010,  Houston Ballet II, Houston Ballet’s second company, toured to Guatemala City with a mixed repertory performance at the Organizacion Para Las Artes.  One student from the group of Guatemalan dancers was awarded a scholarship to attend Houston Ballet Academy.

 Sugar Plum Fairy Sally Rojas

Sally Rojas as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker

A native of Caracas, Venezuela, Ms. Rojas is a former soloist who performed with Houston Ballet from 1985 to 2004 before becoming an instructor at Houston Ballet Academy. While in Guatemala City, Ms. Herrera leads teacher workshops and teaches master classes. In Houston, Ms. Rojas is also the artistic coordinator of Pink Aware, a program created by Houston choreographer Jane Weiner to promote breast cancer awareness through dance and the arts.



August 19, 2014

By Kalyn Oden, Houston Ballet PR Intern

Let’s talk about Houston Ballet Academy’s 2014 Summer Intensive’s strength and conditioning program that the dancers participated in this season. This blog will not only give a perspective on the strength and conditioning training the dancers undertake but also about the coach himself.

First, a little about the trainer and his qualifications.

Akihiro Kawasaki is originally from Ibaraki, Japan. Kawasaki began his training in health and fitness while living in Japan and actively playing sports. “I became interested in the strength and conditioning field when I was 19. I have some certifications and a lot of experience before starting work as a strength and conditioning coach,” states Kawasaki. He then wanted to further his education in health and fitness in the United States. While continuing his studies at University of Alabama at Birmingham, graduating with a B.S. in Exercise Science, in the mechanics of the human body and more of the medical side of personal training, he met his wife who had been a professional dancer.


While attending his wife’s performances, he was drawn to the world of ballet. The ballet career path draws individuals who are strong, flexible, demanding, disciplined and hard working professionals. Kawasaki states, “I became especially interested in the mechanics of ballet movements and the partnering skill of male dancers. The way ballet dancers move is more complex and complicated than other sports.” Being introduced to the world of ballet gave him the incentive to study more about the human body and the body’s capability. His knowledge of how the human body works combined with his understanding of the importance of nutrition enable him to provide better care to help keep clients’ bodies healthy and to prevent injuries, along with being able to offer better guidance.

Now I am sure you are wondering, “So, how does this apply to the dancers?”

Kawasaki has created exercises specifically for dancers that will help strengthen the muscles efficiently to prepare them for the strenuous movements on stage. This style of muscle strengthening takes a specific understanding of how dancers’ movements are complex, yet graceful, and demanding. His strength and conditioning classes at Houston Ballet are creative and fun for the dancers to participate in while utilizing resources such as: their own body weight, balance balls, and various sizes of dumbbells, among other resources.


Kawasaki not only instructs the dancers on proper form but also reiterates the importance of nutrition, diet and hydration. Kawasaki begins each session by asking the dancers, “What did you have for breakfast/lunch/dinner? And how much sleep have you received today?” By asking these questions, he helps the dancers better understand the importance of taking care of themselves by what they eat, the crucial role of rest for the entire body and the best way to take in the necessary nutrients. He also helps keep them motivated to reach their goals and achieve their full potential. One of Kawasaki’s philosophies is, “it is essential for student dancers to understand human anatomy, biomechanics and exercise physiology in order to be able to practice self care, to rehabilitate, and to choose training exercises for their practice and performance in ballet.”

Kawasaki has taught both male and female dancers about the importance of the human body and how to take care of it. This year at Houston Ballet, Kawasaki mainly taught male dancers, or danseurs (as they are known in French). Danseurs have to be able to be powerful and graceful with every move yet “make his female partner look beautiful at the same time.” Kawasaki has designed different exercises for male dancers to improve personal ballet technique and strengthen partnering skills. Kawasaki works with Houston Ballet’s instructors to help the dancers with any weaknesses and to improve dance technique through strength and conditioning.

After the dancers strenuous yet productive session with Kawasaki, he teaches the importance of conditioning, resting the muscles and how to help prevent injuries after exercising. One way of helping the muscles relax is the practice of Yamuna Body Rolling or YBR. YBR is a component of bone stimulation which posits that if the bones are in correct alignment, then the muscle then will function correctly. Having the muscle properly function assists in relieving pain, preventing injuries and reducing unnecessary stress. YBR uses various balls to target specific areas of the body; the balls then become the hands of the therapist. By using the various balls for specific areas of the body, the person’s weight creates the traction, movement and release on the ball. This then results in Yamuna Body Rolling. YBR also compliments the goals of Yoga.


As with any professional sport, these dancers work hard on a daily basis to better themselves in their performances. During the ‘off-season’, the dancers continue to exercise and maintain a healthy diet. They rely on the help of health professionals/trainers such as Kawasaki to reach personal goals, minimize injuries and keep the body healthy. Kawasaki asserts that understanding human physiology will “produce more great, strong and reliable dancers in order to bring the level of Houston Ballet or other ballet companies higher and better.”

Kawasaki always reminds his students, “Where there is a will, there is THE way. This is because it is only your own way — not the same as others. You are the one who opens a door for your path in your future.”


Growth with the Eselgroths

July 23, 2014

by Emily Kammerlohr, Academy Intern

Week Five is where the rubber meets the road for the Summer Intensive Program students! Dancers from all levels scramble to perfect their moves in preparation for Week Six’s rehearsals and shows. Yet even amid all the craziness, the Eselgroths were both still smiling and ready to chat about how things progressed this summer! Check them out!

Lilian’s favorite piece from the Showcase is The Waltz of the Hours from Coppelia because it has everything: light bits, quick-paced sections, fun footwork- everything! She also mentioned that it’s a bit longer than what she’s used to dancing, but the exhaustion it brings is glorious because she loves it so much!

The kids were also quick to praise the instruction at Houston Ballet Academy! Lilian said that she “loves Rep class with Ms. Bryant!” Former company member Susan Bryant runs an excellent class, as Lilian said that they work very hard to keep their movements clean.

Clark said he adores Claudio Muñoz because “he is just so funny! He gives us great compliments and corrections, and is always so entertaining!”

Clark has really taken those corrections to heart, saying that the Summer Intensive has really helped him to dance cleaner. “My passé is higher, my turnout is better, and I’m more careful about the way my foot is pointed.”

As mentioned in the video, one of Clark’s favorite parts of the Summer Intensive is the opportunity to be around so many other men who dance! He’s one of the older boys at his studio, and as a Level 5, the ability to learn not only from the instructors, but also older boys, is priceless.

“I really look up to Valentin Batista in Level 7” he said. “He gives me lots of advice on turns and tours, which is really helpful!” It also doesn’t hurt that Valentin is from Argentina- the home of Clark’s favorite soccer team!

“Second place…so close!” he mourned when I asked him about the World Cup.

This might be all from the Eselgroths, but next week, we’ll wrap up with a little something from all the students here at the Summer Intensive Program!

See you then!


Checking in with Natalie Payne

July 21, 2014

 By Emily Kammerlohr, Academy Intern

 Time is just flying by and preparations for the final summer showcase are well underway here at the Center for Dance. This week, we’ll be highlighting one student’s path to the performance. Although her days are already brimming with learning, including jazz, gyrotonics, social, and Pilates classes in addition to ballet, Level 7 student Natalie Payne is working diligently to improve her technique for the show.

“I’m always working and focusing on my technique, but now I’m doing it in a way where I can be relaxed on top, and still really enjoy what I’m doing,” she said. “I think that you actually tend to dance better in class that way.”

Click below to hear her discuss the other ways she is preparing for the showcase, as well as her favorite non-dance aspects of the program!

The Level 7 students have been steadily working on Stanton Welch’s Paquita in variations class, but they also have dabbled with Aurora, the variation from Act I of Sleeping Beauty. Natalie mentioned that her class was “fortunate enough to have two lessons with former Houston Ballet principal dancer, Dawn Scannell. It was amazing to learn the variation from her, and hear what the story is behind it!”

We also laughed about the excited atmosphere in the building as the World Cup soccer tournament was often playing in the 5th floor lunch area. “A lot of the guys will go and watch the matches during their breaks,” she said.“We were in class with Claudio [Muñoz] and we had the studio door open. We suddenly heard this giant yell coming from the fifth floor kitchen! It was all the guys screaming because Argentina had scored. It’s been a really fun thing this summer, with everyone going for their teams. It’s been crazy!”

Clark and Lilian will be back next week to give their “multi-level” perspective on the so-called craziness of this summer!


Until then!


It Takes Two

July 8, 2014

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

 By Emily Kammerlohr, Academy Intern

Lilian and Clark Eselgroth are a dynamic sibling duo hailing from North Carolina! I had lots of fun filming with these two – they really love each other and it shows! Lilian, level six, is poised and professional and Clark, level five, is an absolute hoot. Click on the video below to check them out!

Clark recently attended the YAGP (Youth America Grand Prix) in Atlanta and Lilian was able to assist him back stage.  She helped him tweak his performances and even did his makeup. What a good sister!  Clark mentioned that her guidance was so helpful because she participated in the event last year.

Lilian was able to watch two of Clark’s pieces from backstage, but for the very last one she watched him from the audience. She made sure he knew when he heard her clapping in the audience, he would remember to smile!

“That’s the only correction I really give him” she says, “is just to smile.”

Clark couldn’t pick just one favorite ballet, so he listed a top three: Swan Lake, Le Corsaire, and La Bayadère. Listed in no particular order, of course! He likes them because the variations have lots of jumps and, as he is working to perfect his jumps this summer, he would appreciate the opportunity to do them on stage. Also, he adds with a sly smile, “They’re kind of manly.”

Lilian is working to improve her technique this summer. She is avidly perfecting her turnout, as well as her strength when executing a move. Her favorite ballet to dance is La fille mal gardée because she really enjoys its comedic elements, and her favorite ballet to watch is Romeo and Julieta far cry from comedy!

“We’re doing that one here next spring!” I mention.

Both of their faces immediately lit up.

“We have to see that one!” Lilian says. “I haven’t seen it in person yet, only on video. So that would be amazing.”

That’s all from the Eselgroths – but don’t worry! They will return in week five to update us on the final performance. But in the meantime, you can check back next week for more news from Natalie Payne!

Until then!


She’s Baaaack!

July 1, 2014

By Emily Kammerlohr, Academy Intern

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Miss Natalie Payne, everyone’s favorite Aussie, has returned to once again provide an inside look into the life of a Summer Intensive Program dancer. “The training is so good here,” she says, forming a beaming smile. “I love working with all my teachers, as well as the new ones who come just for the summer.” Now a year-round student, Natalie feels “at home” here at the Center for Dance and hopes she can help other students to feel the same.

Click below to hear Natalie discuss her growth since we last saw her, tips for new students in the program, as well as how she fights fatigue during those long-haul flights from Australia!

Her favorite modern ballet is SechsTanze (Six Dances) choreographed by Jiří Kylián. The piece is quick-paced and witty – just like Natalie. After watching it myself, it was easy to see why she loves it! As for the classical, she could not stop raving about our very own Stanton Welch’s Swan Lake. “I saw it multiple times” she gushed. “It was beautiful.”

While Natalie had lots to share about the artistic elements of ballet, we also talked about some pretty quirky habits in her day-to-day life at the Center.

“What’s a must-have item in your ballet bag?” I ask as our time together winds down.

“Lip balm,” she laughs, “I’ve tried to go without it but I simply can’t! I’m obsessed! ”

She also always carries a small Pac-Man notebook with her to write down corrections during class. Did you spot it in the video?

Natalie sends love to her mom, dad and sister and will be back during week four to update us on her final performance, but I return next week to introduce you to our next two vloggers.


See you soon!


Education and Outreach “Goes Global”

June 27, 2014

By Emily Kammerlohr, Academy Intern

Friday, June 27, 2014

Houston Ballet partners with the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center (ERJCC) to put on “Jump, Jive, Move and Groove!” now in its second year.  This year, the program is hosted by Ripley House, a local service site of Neighborhood Centers, one of the largest charitable organizations in Texas, located at 4410 Navigation Boulevard.

Houston Ballet Education and Outreach staff partner with teachers from the ERJCC to design a summer camp curriculum which is modeled after the pedagogy created by Jacques d’Amboise at the National Dance Institute.  This year, over 50 children are taking two classes daily creating both dances and crafts. Following the theme “Wonders of the World” the young dancers are hard at work learning choreography for multiple pieces and creating costumes and props inspired by cultures from around the globe!

Education Outreach Photo

Sommers leading the group during warm ups

I was invited to join Outreach Coordinator and Curriculum Specialist, Jennifer Sommers, to observe a Tuesday morning class. We were joined by Michele Kitchen and Sarah Oakley, Education and Outreach staff acting as assistant teachers and the lead teacher for ERJCC, Valerie Handy. Live music was provided by Pedro Huertas and Pelaya Parlade.

On the day I visited, the kids were learning a new dance, an Indian-inspired number to the tune of Jai Ho. I later discovered, along with the students, that it roughly translates to “let there be victory” from Hindi. A fitting mantra for a successful class!

Before the students arrived, Sommers rehearsed the steps she planned to teach and ran through the educational song she created to close the class. It was set to a fun, easy-to-remember rhyme scheme and as she sang about India, we followed her hand motions to learn about its capital, native animals and geographical location.
The students were working to prepare a short showcase of dances to present to friends and family this morning, Friday, June 27th.  Both classes already had a Greek-inspired dance in their repertoire, and while the younger students later immersed themselves in India, the older students took on China.


Education Outreach Photo 3

Students strike a pose during the Greek-inspired number

The Greek dance was electric! It had goddess-inspired poses, an Olympic opening and a triumphant cry of “Opa!” ended the piece.  The energy was hard to resist! Even the slumped shoulders of the older kids weren’t enough to convince me that they weren’t enjoying themselves. The smiles twitching on the edge of their lips gave them away.

As a classics major, it was only right that the students quiz me on their Greek dance.

“Did you recognize the goddess in our dance? What about the god?” They were so proud of themselves– I had to make sure to get it right!

There was an embarrassing pause as I racked my brain for possibilities. I had been so enthralled in the overall feel of the dance that I hadn’t picked up on it. After a quick hint from Sommers, I guessed that their outstretched right arms were arrows, and as their left hand rested on their hip, the curve of their arm represented the bow. They were Artemis and her brother Apollo – the hunting twins!

Between the two classes, I had a chance to visit with the students. They grilled me about the trip to Greece I took through my study abroad program, and I was able to share my love of ancient history with a kindred audience. I mentioned that in college, you can choose to study classics exclusively. I could see the wheels begin to turn in their heads. “You mean…if I go to college, I can talk about this stuff all the time?”

Education Outreach Photo 2

Discussing history and dance

Moments like this are what make these programs essential. They not only provide a safe space for the kids to spend their summer mornings, all the while learning about cooperation, confidence and coordination, but they also serve to introduce the dancers to the endless possibilities for their futures.

While some of the students discovered a love for Greek culture and history through this dance, others’ preexisting passion was simply nourished through the program. Maybe a few of the students don’t love Greek history – but that of India or China may fascinate them.

Students with a knack for the artistic can hone their skills in arts and craft class and even the simplest notion that this program allows these kids to just dance is significant.

“Jump, Jive, Move and Groove” allows students, many of whom don’t normally have access to dance classes and live music, to discover their passions.

At the end of each class, Sommers leads the students in thanking the live musicians, the assistant teachers, as well as themselves for a job well done.   We said it in Hindi that day: pronounced “Dhan’yavāda” the sentiment flowed off everyone’s tongue as they celebrated a successful class.


For more information about Education and Outreach programming please click here.


The 2014 Summer Intensive Program is Here!

June 20, 2014

By Emily Kammerlohr, Academy Intern

June 20, 2014

It’s that time of year again! On June 14th over 600 dancers from across the USA and around the world arrived in Houston for a jam-packed six week dance adventure.  The first week of the summer intensive program is drawing to a close, but the excitement here at Houston Ballet Center for Dance continues to build! The hallways are filled with student’s enthusiastic chatter, dance bags and energy.

Houston Ballet Summer Intensive 2013

 Houston Ballet Summer Intensive – Photo by Cameron Durham

Want an inside look at all this excitement? You’re in luck! Each week a student will take us into their world right here on En Pointe. They’ll show us what it’s really like to dance in Houston’s summer intensive, all while having fun. This year we’ll be featuring a seasoned veteran with lots of advice to impart, as well as a fresh-faced brother-sister duo who can’t wait to share their excitement with you!

These videos will be uploaded to the Houston Ballet YouTube and Facebook pages as well – so keep an eye out!

Ciao for now!




June 19, 2014

The studios and corridors of the Houston Ballet Center for Dance are buzzing with hundreds of young bodies and an influx of electric energy as Houston Ballet Academy’s 2014 Summer Intensive Program kicks into high gear.

 Houston Ballet Academy Summer IntensiveHouston Ballet Academy Summer Intensive: Photo by Cameron Durham

From June 16 – July 25, the Academy Summer Intensive welcomes 679 dance students from 45 states and 10 countries, including China, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Paraguay, Japan, Argentina, Israel, Brazil, and Mexico.  2014 marks the largest summer intensive program in the Academy’s 49-year history.

 Houston Ballet Academy Summer Intensive

 Houston Ballet Academy Summer Intensive: Photo by Cameron Durham

The young dancers — the majority of them teenagers — train intensively six days a week at Houston Ballet Center for Dance while also squeezing in time for some fun and field trips to Houston landmarks such as NASA.It is an exciting period of learning, growth, creativity and forging new friendships.

 Houston Ballet Summer Intensive

Houston Ballet Academy Summer Intensive: Photo by Cameron Durham

Claudio Munoz teaching students at the Houston Ballet Academy Summer Intensive

In January and February 2014, Academy teachers and coaches fanned out across the country to identify the most talented students at auditions held in 15 cities across America, from San Francisco to New York City. They also recruited from such ballet competitions as the Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland and Youth America Grand Prix in New York City.

 Houston Ballet Summer Intensive

Houston Ballet Academy Summer Intensive: Photo by Cameron Durham

The Summer Intensive culminates in a fully-staged performance.  On July 11 at 7:00 pm, the Academy joins forces with the young composers of American Festival for the Arts to debut new works by teenage choreographers set to specially created scores by AFA students at Houston Ballet’s Center for Dance, 601 Preston Street.  The performance is free and open to the public. Join us, and share the excitement of the 2014 Summer Intensive Program!




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