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Grace and Growth at the Glorious Pensacola Ballet Company

By David Boegaard

Ballet Pensacola was founded in 1978 as Kaleidoscope Dance Theatre by Gioia Michelotti, an Italian-trained dancer and teacher. While the group always provided a chance for young dancers to gain experience and perform publicly, it was only after a number of years that the organizers realized that younger dancers in the Pensacola area were in need of a fully-fledged training program.

Today, the Ballet Pensacola has both a professional and a training wing, all under the current name. It is by the power of the two wings together that the Ballet really flies.

As a professional ballet, Ballet Pensacola is the resident professional ballet of Pensacola. With a season of diverse performances running from September through April, Ballet Pensacola has become a cultural landmark in Pensacola. The dancers work hard, says Artistic Director Richard Steinert. "Depending on the casting for any particular ballet in repertory, the dancers can expect to be in class and rehearsal between 30-35 hours per week and maintain their personal training regime off site." It is that sort of devotion to craft that makes Ballet Pensacola such a thrilling experience.

The training side is called the Ballet Pensacola Academy. It has three divisions, covering a broad range of age and skill.

The youngest division is the the Children's Division, which works with kids age three to six. They take an approach to dance that focuses on the specific abilities and explorations of children that age. "The Children's Division syllabus capitalizes on children's naturally occurring cognitive and physical development while helping them acquire additional motor, cognitive and social skills," says Steinert.

The education is accomplished by extended explorations of different objects "such as music, movement concepts and class etiquette," says Steinert, noting that the kids "also have the opportunity for free dance expression at the end of the lesson."

Children seven and older are encouraged to join the Training Division. "There are eight graded syllabus levels and a graduated system of study that encompasses both classical ballet and contemporary dance technique," says Steinert. The training moves progressively through gradually more challenging movements and concepts as children strive to become true dancers.

Those children who have shown the most exceptional promise are encouraged to consider the Youth Ensemble. "Although there is no audition process for admission to the Academy," says Steinert, "students are eligible to audition for the Youth Ensemble once they reach a certain training level." Led by Ballet Mistress Christine Duhon, the Youth Ensemble is a new experience of the challenges and delights of dance. On occasions, the Youth Ensemble even performs at the main stage!

Professional ballet is serious business, as difficult as any work, and the Youth Ensemble is an attempt to initiate students into that world. "The Youth Ensemble provides an excellent opportunity for company-bound dancers to develop their technique and stagecraft prior to encountering the rigors of full company responsibilities." Graduates go on to audition and perform for the Ballet Pensacola's professional company or other companies around the country.

It is a special thrill to watch the bodies moving through space according to the rigorous precision and grace of ballet. There is truly nothing like it. And the training is some of the most demanding in the world, comparable to medical training or science. But the rewards are the weightlessness of a perfect leap, the delicacy of a perfect landing, the harmony of a perfect turn. For audience and performers alike, those rewards are inestimable.

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