Mountain View Voice

News - August 13, 2010

Ballet school piques tots' interest in dance

by Emily Hamilton

With colorful arts and crafts hanging from the ceiling, paper mache decorating the walls, and toys scattered almost everywhere, it's a typical preschool classroom. But on Aug. 10, the bookshelves and toddler-sized furniture were pushed aside to make way for a special performance at Bishop Child Development Center in Sunnyvale. Forty 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds rushed in with their playground-induced energy, but were soon quieted by classical music, as teachers from Western Ballet led a demonstration.

"What Western Ballet wants to do is make ballet accessible to all kids," said Western Ballet board member Camilla Kao. Western Ballet has led similar demonstrations in the past, but this is was the first to target Bishop CDC's demographic of kids from lower-income families, Kao said.

Leading the demonstration were Robin Zeleznik, who spoke to the kids, and Eileen Zubiria, who danced for them. Zeleznik began by talking about the importance of warming up, using some of the kids' favorite sports as analogies.

"Even big, professional football players take ballet," she told them. The kids' eyes were glued to Zubiria as she did her barre stretches. Many of the kids had never seen ballet before.

"It opens up a new world for some of these kids," Zeleznik said after the demonstration. "It's bringing it so close and personal. It brings it to life in a way that they may never have had access to before."

After warming up, Zubiria performed three short pieces for the group — in three different costumes.

"Woah!" and, "awesome!" were heard from clusters of boys and girls as Zubiria promenaded in pointe shoes.

"How do you stand on your toes?" one girl asked.

Part of the goal of these demonstrations is to educate kids about ballet, but Western Ballet also has a special motive this year. Beginning in late August, the studio is holding auditions for their new Nina Novak Scholarship Program, in which they will sponsor young dancers who could not otherwise afford classes. This is largely inspired by programs in countries like Cuba and Venezuela to make the arts more accessible to all youth.

"Ultimately, we hope to create stars out of this," Kao said. She anticipates that about 10 kids will receive scholarships this year. Part of the program will involve a commitment from parents to get their kids to the dance classes.

Though none of the auditioners will have formal dance training, Western Ballet will look for kids who exhibit some important qualities for ballet, including listening skills, focus, musicality, and sense of rhythm, Zeleznik said.

The Western Ballet team distributed information about the auditions at the demonstration on Tuesday, and are hoping to draw in boys and girls like the ones at Bishop CDC.

"You never know what's going to inspire one of these kids," Zeleznik said. "You always feel like ballet had been handed down to you, and you want to pass that on."

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