Ranks of street shoes line the narrow entrance hall. Young people of various ages fit themselves into small spaces on the floor, engaged in stretches. Some girls lean on the wall, helping each other with hairpins. Costumes of shiny brocades adorned with fur trim, sequins, and ribbons weigh down tables along the edges of entrance and the smaller dance hall. The atmosphere is focused but not panicked. All over the Upper Valley, students were enjoying April vacation week. Lebanon Ballet School was delighted–more rehearsal time!
Students at the school were in the throes of preparing to participate in City Center Ballet’s spring show, Sleeping Beauty, a version of the classic ballet Maurice Petipa choreographed to Tchaikovsky’s music. The ballet was first performed in 1890, but like all the best classics, it continues to delight new generations who discover it.
Linda Copp, the founder and director of the school, serenely takes a moment to chat. She herself started ballet classes at three years old, “way too young” for formal training, she says. “I’ll take kids as young as three or four for our ‘First Steps’ program, but it’s not till they’re six or seven that they can really begin. Then they understand the concept of counting and can begin to work on their bodies, for example, if you tell them something about their stomach muscles.” With today’s children spending more of their time indoors, she finds even eight-year-olds need to develop motor skills such as the running, jumping, skipping and hopping that used to become ingrained years earlier.
Dreaming of stardom like any young dancer, Copp trained after high school in Hartford, CT, where her primary teacher recognized her skill as a teacher, and “helped me make [teaching] something I felt good about.” She has run the Lebanon school for 30 years, training approximately 3,000 students—and counting.
Where the Boys Are—Not
Most of those students have been girls, of course. Ballet’s appeal to girls is legendary. But every serious performance requires male dancers, so Linda is particularly glad to have several boys enrolled in her school. Two recent additions are Ben Stroud of Quechee and Sam Bradley of Etna, both students at the Quechee Waldorf School. Stroud has loved theater for years, and has played locally in shows such as Pentangle’s Pirates of Penzance. A theater coach recommended ballet training to help him know where his body and hands are, and when some female classmates challenged them to try ballet, Stroud and Bradley both signed up.
These remarkably self-possessed and well-spoken boys talk frankly of the rarity of male dancers. They note that other athletes study ballet, like the Bruins’ goalie, who took ballet as a kid. Football players sometimes add ballet to their training to improve movement and landing from jumps. “The stigma about it is not true,” Bradley says. “If people tried it, they’d like it.” Ballet goes beyond pure athleticism, Copp explains, adding “Einstein called dancers ‘the athletes of God.’ They have to be athletic and look good at it.”
“Ballet started with guys, and migrated to women,” explains Stroud. Yes, male dancers help make the women look good, assisting in pas de deux, for example, creating classic images. Choreography for male solos or small groups of male dancers features flashy leaps and feats of strength and balance.
Just for BoysCopp now runs a class just for boys, to meet their needs and interests. “They want to jump more, turn more,” she explains. “Yes, girls do this too, but it’s really the boys’ focus. And they start to take it more seriously; there’s a healthy competition. When they’re together with the girls there’s a giddiness about them. When separate, they’re willing to start slower and build on the teaching. They enjoy the camaraderie. And they have male teachers.”
Stroud and Bradley are working hard at ballet and loving it, though their days are also full of other projects; Bradley is on the Quechee Ski Team, and Stroud plays cello and saxophone. “It’s good exercise, but not strenuous,” says Stroud, though he admits, “If you do it well, it should be hard.” Bradley explains, “I like it because of the people here—the teachers are great and the kids. Once you start you see the older dancers and you want to be them. The better I get the harder it gets, because the teachers know you, and push you harder. Class is physically hard, and mentally hard.” He and Stroud both flash big grins that show they meet this challenge happily.