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In Search of All That Jazz

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

When I think of “jazz,” the music of Bourbon Street or from a favorite Broadway show pops into my mind. But Jazz encompasses a wide range of music from hip hop, reggae, contemporary, and other countries, just to name a few. With such an eclectic mix of music, what exactly is jazz dance?

Several classes at the Butler Community School (BCS) fall into the “jazz” category: Broadway Jazz, Contemporary Jazz, Jazz Turns & Jumps, Jazz Funk, and just plain ol’ Jazz!  Because I get so many questions about jazz as well as the differences between each class, I decided to share some interesting facts about the dance form.

Jazz dance has a rather long and rich history that has evolved over the years. Jazz had its roots in African culture, where people depended on dance to tell stories and express their beliefs. This interpretive dance was brought to America. The style later changed even more with European influence, but it still continued to be a dance of expression.

Since the 1920s, Jazz has continuously evolved – Jazz dance changed as our culture changed. From the Charleston of the 1920s, jazz evolved into swing jazz during the 1930s big band era. People like Jack Cole, Bob Fosse and many others made theatre jazz popular in the middle of the century. In the 80s, FAME, FLASHDANCE, and FOOTLOOSE left their mark. Each decade brought something new and fresh. The evolution of Jazz has lead to jazz funk, lyrical, and the contemporary jazz of today. But even today,  despite the range, just mention jazz to one person and it will mean something quite different than it might to another.

In spite of such diverse influence and change, or maybe because of it, jazz classes are some of the most popular dance classes around today. At the BCS, the legacy of Jack Cole can still be found in a Broadway Jazz class. Contemporary Jazz offers a more commercial style with a mix of lyrical, pop, and contemporary often seen on So You Think You Can Dance. Jazz Turns & Jumps is a technique class, designed to work on movement and learn tricks. Jazz Funk falls in line with the hip hop classes, cool and funky to the hottest pop music. And then there is just Jazz, a fun, upbeat, New York style jazz class.

Despite all the changes over the decades, and all the different styles, one thing’s for sure: Jazz is fun. There’s a style for everyone, too, so let go and express yourself. It’s what Jazz is all about!

 

Click for more information on Jazz classes at the Ballet Austin Butler Community School.

Today I Took My Test

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

After recently completing a certification course in Youth Fitness, today I took my test.  I love being a continuous learner, always thinking about what I can learn next. I want to learn something today that will bring me one step closer to excellence.  I hope I will always have the desire to learn new things. It’s what makes life exciting.

I look around at the many instructors who teach classes at Ballet Austin’s Butler Community School, and I realize that I am surrounded by people who share my passion for learning, becoming more qualified in their field, and pursuing excellence. So I thought I’d give a shout out to a few BCS instructors who recently completed training, or are currently in the middle of it. I believe it is part of what sets the BCS apart; excellence in the classes offered, incredible instructors of the highest caliber.

Congratulations to BCS Hula instructor Pei-San Brown who just attained the high rank of Kumu Hula (Hula Master). Ballet Austin’s Pilates Program Director, Vlada Sheber never stops learning. This past year she attended training with the Pilates Pink Ribbon Program to become a Pilates Post-Rehabilitative Breast Cancer Exercise Specialist.

Pilates and Ballet Fit Instructor, Elise Pekarek recently completed training to become certified with Balanced Body Pilates.  Brittany Harpole who is a Certified Pilates Instructor, and teaches many of the BCS fitness classes, is currently enrolled in a course to be certified in Turbo Kick. Boo Ruiz is working towards a master level certification in fitness.  Several other instructors hold certifications in yoga, are certified personal trainers, and have a wealth of experience and expertise in their field.  I am proud to work alongside such an exceptional slate of instructors in the BCS. Come take a class and learn from the best!

…I passed my test by the way.

Get out of Your Rut – Mix up Your Routine

Monday, June 6th, 2011

On my run this morning I started thinking that my exercise routine has become pretty…well, “routine”.  I run down the same streets, past the same houses without even thinking. Nothing changes. My brain and body both have it memorized; even my pedometer gives the same reading. I get great cardio, burn calories, feel good, but where’s the challenge? Where’s the fun? Do I need something new?

I talked to a woman last week who expressed a frustration in her current fitness regimen. She said, “I’m in an exercise rut. Can you help me?“ Another woman told me she was looking for something new and fun to re-invigorate her workout. “I want to challenge my brain and my body,” she said.

Ruts happen. And unless you’re that rare person who can do the same thing over and over, day in and day out, without losing interest or enthusiasm, staying motivated and engaged in your workout is difficult.  The solution is different for everyone, but maybe it’s time to try something new. Take the BCS 4-week Course Challenge! The Butler Community School has 12 different Dance & Fitness courses beginning this week that will get you moving while learning something new and having fun. Mix up your routine. Try something different. Keep it fresh!

From Tap dance for beginners, to Hula, Yoga, Pilates-based courses, and Boot Camps; early morning, lunch time, and evening. Each course offers motivation, accountability, and camaraderie; three ingredients that will help infuse your workout.

There’s also the group aspect. One of the great things about a group is that if you show up half asleep at an early morning boot camp, or exhausted at the end of a long work day, once you join the group, you become re-energized. With a friendly instructor to challenge and motivate you, it can’t get any better.  Or maybe it can; the power of the group!  Nothing brings people together quite like learning together, pressing through muscle burn, or reaching a goal. Whether learning to tap or being pushed to your cardio limit, taking a BCS course will provide opportunity to develop a common bond while getting into the best shape possible. Give it 4 weeks…

Need to get out of the exercise rut? The solution might be as simple as taking a BCS Course. Sign up today. Maybe you’ll see me there!

A Little Bit of Broadway on 3rd

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

“I am not a rich Aunt from New York City…but I played one on stage!”

That’s just one of the characters BCS Musical Theatre Workshop participant Sabrina Vega has played. She has been Ms. Hannigan from ANNIE in last year’s Broadway in May, Aunt Sophie in Holiday Road, and yes, rich Aunt Betty in Magic in Manhattan.

Every fall and spring the Butler Community School offers a Musical Theatre Performance Workshop that culminates in an onstage production in Ballet Austin’s AustinVentures StudioTheater. Community theatre at its best! This spring there are over 80 participants from age 8 to 58 who will be performing in the upcoming musical Broadway in May//Broadway Today. Sabrina is back again for a 4th time.

Here’s what Sabrina had to say about why she loves this workshop and why she thinks everyone should come see the show!

“I am excited about Broadway in May. What a great opportunity to perform songs, dances, and scenes that are on Broadway stages today! I think everyone who is in the cast has a dream, or a secret desire, to perform on Broadway. This workshop, and the performances in a real theater, gives us the opportunity to fulfill that dream. I love the process of creating pieces from Broadway shows into something of our own through original choreography and interpretation. This spring, Broadway Today takes many shows from the Great White Way and combines them all into one musical theatre review. What fun it has been for cast members to find a show or song that calls to them, and then perform it. This opportunity brings out the best in me; gives me a chance to try something new and fun. It also gives the audience a peek at what shows are on stage today in New York City. There’s something for everyone, even a sing along! Broadway in May//Broadway Today will include serious social issues, hilarious fun, classic characters, and endless entertainment on many levels.

I am not a rich Aunt from New York City…but you will see me in the opening CHICAGO number, ADDAMS FAMILY, BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON, JERSEY BOYS, BEATLES, ANYTHING GOES, and more. Don’t miss it!”

Tap Class: Happy Feet Make Me Smile

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

There’s something about cute little penguins dancing that makes me smile. If you saw the movie Happy Feet you know what I mean. The cuddly, cheerful penguin Mumble can’t sing (are penguins supposed to be able to sing?), but can dance (although not encouraged in the penguin world).  Mumble dances with joy and enthusiasm. And we smile.

I don’t tap. I don’t even dance. I lean more towards the athlete (and I use that term loosely) column than the dancer column. But I have great appreciation for the physical abilities of dancers, and I love to watch dance. As Director of Programming for the Butler Community School (BCS) I try to watch the dance classes as often as I can. Recently I watched a few tap classes. There is something exciting about the sound of metal taps on a floor; about dancing and creating music simultaneously; about the joy and enthusiasm I see on faces. Tap is a ‘feel-good’ dance; happy feet! It makes me smile.

Last week I peeked in on the BCS Kid’s Zone tap class, and also watched the teen/adult advanced tap. The other night, while watching the tappers in the BCS Musical Theatre Workshop rehearse a number from Anything Goes for the upcoming performance of Broadway in May, memories of Mitzi Gaynor and Bing Crosby came flooding back. It made me smile. The Broadway in May tappers were having the time of their lives. I had to ask them, “What makes you so happy when you tap?”

Mary Kinney takes BCS Tap classes with Danny Herman and is also enrolled in the BCS Musical Theatre Workshop. She has this to say about tap, “Tap is a fun way to get an amazing workout. I love making music with my feet! Tap is a great stress relief!”

Scout Wilkinson said, “I’ve been tapping on and off for 10 years (Which is 3/4 of my lifetime). Tap class is the highlight of my week. Danny Herman is so fun.  He always praises us, even if it’s just for trying to master a step we’re not quite skilled enough to actually do.  Even when we’re working hard it’s always okay for us to joke and laugh with each other.  I’m sure I’ll never find a tap class that I love more. Tap makes me smile.”

So come tap away your stress, get an amazing workout, have fun, smile, and make music with your happy feet!

It’s Funky and Fresh!

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Ballet is what we’re generally known for, and ballet we have! Adults of any age and experience level can take a ballet class at Ballet Austin’s Butler Community School (BCS). There’s also Ballet Fit, Broadway Jazz, Contemporary Jazz, Tap, Hula, Modern and more. While every class has its fans and faithful attenders, it’s the 8:30pm hip hop crowd that has caught my attention. What brings 30 plus people downtown late on a Tuesday or Thursday night to take a hip hop class? Some say it’s the workout, some say the music, or the new style of hip hop that spans genres, but the biggest attraction for many people, and why they keep coming back, is the unique personality and style of instructor Shepherd Allen.

Shepherd’s passion and sense of fun, combined with his experience and great ability to teach, bring people back week after week. He keeps the class funky and fresh. Shepherd was a finalist for Season 4 of So You Think You Can Dance (top 80), but his current mission is to bring the fun back to dance. Original choreography using the music of today’s hottest contemporary artists, combined with a high energy funky attitude, is sure to hook you. Hip Hop is for all ages and dance backgrounds, and can be learned and enjoyed by anyone who just wants to get up and dance. Shepherd’s invitation is this, “Bring your attitude, the more attitude the better, and plan for as much fun as you can possibly fit into an hour.”

Who says the telephone party line is a thing of the past?

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Ever since Alexander Graham Bell transmitted his voice into the back room of his science lab, the telephone has been a necessity of life. Back in the day, I remember my grandma sharing a phone line with many of the folk from her small town in eastern Washington; the telephone party line. Party lines were not always a party; people could listen in on calls (what we call eavesdropping), and they had to compete for phone time with the entire town. Telephone party lines as they once were known may be a thing of the past, but every spring I experience a different sort of telephone party line.

Beginning the first weekend in January Ballet Austin artistic staff travel all of the United States to audition students for Ballet Austin’s Summer Intensive.  They see hundreds of students from coast to coast. My favorite part of this process is when they come home. I am handed a white binder containing the names of everyone who auditioned. I am the bearer of good news, “you have been accepted…” That’s when the party begins! Who doesn’t love to give good news? I am no exception. This year I talked to about 500 students to let them know that they are invited to attend Ballet Austin’s Summer Intensive. When I share the news with them in a personal conversation over the phone, a simple call becomes a celebration; a party. 

From Dunwoody, Georgia to Kenosha, Wisconsin; from Port Moody, British Columbia to Miami, Florida; from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine; the telephone party line is almost always the same. Screams, tears, and cheers from excited students rejoicing over the news. Some respond in disbelief, some in relief, but all with appreciation and anticipation as they look towards summer. Countless hours of class, miles traveled to audition, passion, dedication, and commitment bring opportunity for summer.  For the student it’s all about dance. For me, these telephone parties are just the beginning of new relationships; an opportunity for Ballet Austin to reach across 50 states. Who says the telephone party line is a thing of the past?

Ballet Isn’t Just for Kids!

Monday, February 14th, 2011

At some point in their lives most little girls desire to put on a pink tutu and twirl around the living room. Some actually take lessons for awhile, but most go about their lives, having wistful thoughts whenever the ballet performs, wishing that they too had taken lessons.

And then January 2011 rolled around and the calls to the Butler Community School office began. “I’ve always wanted to learn ballet, but I’m afraid I am way past my prime!”  “I know it’s ridiculous, but I have had a dream all my life of learning ballet.”  “This may be a silly question, but do you have ballet classes for adults?” “At my age I should probably know better than to entertain such a fanciful dream as learning ballet, but is it possible?”  “I took ballet as a child over 30 years ago. Do you have classes for someone like me?” These questions and more are just a few of the hundreds of calls that came in during the last month.

Most people think that ballet classes are for the young rather than the young at heart. Men and women both think that if they didn’t start young there is no place for them in a ballet class. That’s where they’re wrong. Ballet is for ALL ages. With ballet, it’s never too late. My job was to convince them of that, and to encourage them to try a class. And they did.

When I saw attendance in the BCS Adult Beginning Ballet class double during January, I became intrigued. What is the attraction? Why do they come? Why do they stay? I watched through the window as adults of all ages listened intently to BCS ballet teacher Libby James give simple, patient instructions and corrections.

Besides fulfilling childhood dreams, one of the reasons these classes have become so popular is because they are for adults, and are offered in the evenings on a pay-as-you-go drop-in basis. Secondly, the dreaded leotard is not required. Students can simply relax, have a good time, and workout at a speed that’s comfortable for them. And workout they do. Ballet promotes longer, leaner, beautifully toned muscles, and encourages a certain gracefulness, improving balance and posture. Ballet at the BCS promotes smiles and fun.

The secret is out. Ballet is for everyone, including you!

The Best Exercise in the World…Guaranteed!

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Got your attention, didn’t I? In case you are scrolling down to find the answer…wait! Read carefully to discover what is considered to be the best exercise in the world! Everyone is telling you to get moving, get active, get fit! The City of Austin has its Fit City campaign and is becoming an official Let’s Move City in 2011. There are local and national Active Life initiatives. Even here at Ballet Austin, one of our core values is, “We dance…to encourage lifelong health and well-being.” The Butler Community School (BCS) desires people to adopt healthy lifestyles through dance and regular physical activity. But what does all of this mean for you and me?

I know the human body was designed for activity, and by exercising regularly I’ll look and feel better. I also know it is something I have to do for the rest of my life…be active to stay active. My training and experience in the field of aging remind me that what I don’t use, I lose. Muscular endurance, cardio-respiratory strength, flexibility, balance, and overall health, all increase if I move now.  I stay strong because I stay active. I know all that!  But if the average lifespan of a female is 80 years, that’s a long time to stick with something just to stick with something. It takes a convincing exercise program for me to keep doing it for 80 years! What will it take for you? What is the best exercise in the world for you? The answer…be active your way! It’s your choice. Whatever it looks like for you!

The philosophy is that IF you find an activity that keeps you moving, that you enjoy, you will maintain a higher level of involvement for a longer period of time. So what is the best exercise in the world for you? Whatever you enjoy and will keep doing! Walking the dog, playing golf, raking leaves, running the trail, riding a bike, Pilates, even dancing! It’s anything that will get you moving and keep you moving! Choose an activity that’s easy to fit into your life. If it’s easy you’ll do it. If it’s fun, social, refreshing…you will do it! Wherever you are…it is never too late to start. There is not an age you reach when you are done! What’s the best exercise for you? Your way…guaranteed!

Sara and Cassiday from Mix 94.7 Dance at the BCS!

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

I have listened to Sara and Cassiday on the Mix 94.7 JB & Sandy Morning Show. I love their energy and sense of fun. I got to see that energy, mixed in with a LOT of fun! Sara and Cassiday came to take the Broadway Fit 101 class Tuesday night at the BCS.

According to Cassiday’s blog, “It was not only fun, but a GREAT workout as well. I will be going back to take more classes from them soon!” Sara was a bit nervous but agreed that it was a lot of fun! Check out the video of Sara and Cassiday dancing Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” during Broadway Fit 101 at the BCS! Wonder if they’ll be back next week to learn Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance?

 
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