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Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2008

Learning the Dance

Ballet school for young and old

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When you think of the Milwaukee Ballet, visions of sugarplum fairies probably dance though your head. But there’s much more to the organization than holiday performances of The Nutcracker, especially in the realm of dance education. The Milwaukee Ballet School offers something for everyone and, now, everywhere. Increased enrollment, state-of-the-art studio space and national recognition are creating a buzz in every corner of the city.

Both a training ground for professional dancers and a way to stay fit, the Milwaukee Ballet School serves nearly 2,000 students year-round, ages 3 to 85. Increased marketing efforts upped the school’s enrollment by 20% in 2007, prompting the construction of a top-notch studio in Brookfield.

“Milwaukee Ballet School’s new location allows us to encircle the city and offer our classes wherever you are,” says Rolando Yanes, director of the Milwaukee Ballet School. The school, headquartered on Milwaukee’s near South Side, also operates a branch in Fox Point.

Founded in 1975, the Milwaukee Ballet School provides a graduated system of study catering to every skill level. Class offerings include Creative Movement, Pre-Ballet, Classical Ballet, Modern Ballet, Pointe and Pilates. Milwaukee Ballet School is the only dance school in Wisconsin affiliated with a professional ballet company, which allows its students to benefit from exposure to professional dancers, live music and costuming from the company.

“Our school is open to the community. When we see talent, we nurture it,” Yanes says.

World Class

Yanes, a native of Cuba who has been the Milwaukee Ballet School’s director since 2004, began his career dancing in a professional company in his homeland at the age of 18. He came to Milwaukee in 1996 to dance with the Milwaukee Ballet after a stint in Brazil. At the time, he had never even heard of Milwaukee—he just knew that it was close to Canada. Now Yanes proudly boasts, “I’ve performed with many companies around the world, and the Milwaukee Ballet is among the best.”

Explaining the transition from performing to teaching, Yanes says, “When you perform, you rehearse for so long and you have three minutes and it’s all over. When you teach, you have your whole life to enjoy seeing your students grow and perform; it’s more rewarding for me to give the kids my knowledge.”

Once Milwaukee Ballet students progress through novice levels of study, they have the opportunity to audition for the Milwaukee Ballet II program. Established in 1978, the Nancy Einhorn Ballet II, whose namesake pays homage to a prominent benefactor, serves as a springboard for aspiring professionals to perfect the skills necessary for a career with a professional company. Of the 25 professional dancers in the Milwaukee Ballet company, 10 are graduates of the Ballet II program, including four new members who will premiere in the 2008/09 season. According to Milwaukee Ballet Artistic Director Michael Pink, “The success of our school and trainee programs filters up to our professional company and contributes to the overall success of the Milwaukee Ballet.”

In addition, Milwaukee Ballet School hosts a six-week summer program for more than 150 national and international students. For advanced students, the school offers two summer programs: a six-week Pre-Professional Summer Program and a three-week Intermediate Intensive Summer Program. An audition is required for admittance into either program and scholarships are available.

Accreditation

The Milwaukee Ballet School recently became accredited through the National Association of Schools of Dance (NASD). This recognition earns the Milwaukee Ballet School the reputation as the only school in the Midwest—and one of only 13 in the nation—that has met the high national standards of excellence in dance education. Most professional companies lack the resources and manpower to complete the arduous review process, which can take up to two years.

This distinction will allow the Milwaukee Ballet School to expand its network and entice more international dancers by offering benefits such as academic credit for classes, federal financial assistance, expanded health care options for student families and student work visas. Above all, say its leaders, the Milwaukee Ballet School strives to remain a community resource and inspire dancers of all ages and skill levels. As Yanes tells students, “Dance like you are dancing in a black box and nobody is watching you. Dance because you love it.”

To learn more about Milwaukee Ballet School programs and classes, visit www.milwaukeeballet.org.