Ballet and Physical Education Go Hand-in-Hand for New Brunswick Third-Graders

American Repertory Ballet offers the Dance Power program, which teaches young students ballet.

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

For the last several weeks, American Repertory Ballet has put its spin on gym class. Now the big night has arrived as New Brunswick’s third-graders take the State Theatre stage to show off the moves they learned from the Dance Power program.

“It is a collaboration that’s directly with the physical education teacher,” explains Lisa Beth Vettoso, acting executive director of American Repertory Ballet. “It’s really about strength, it’s really about agility, so these are all things that make sense when you’re thinking about what they’re trying to do in the phys. ed. classroom.”

This 20-week, in-school residency teaches ballet technique, dance history and choreography to be performed at the end of the program for family and friends.

“We’ve received all types of different reactions [from] very excited [to] ‘I don’t like dance. This is not what I do,’” says Dance Power Coordinator and teaching artist Kathleen Smith. “We just really hope at the end of 20 weeks, those feelings all become very much positive, and for the most part, they really are.”

While health and fun are at the heart of the program, there’s a competitive element as well — 32 students are selected to receive scholarships for free ballet training through 12th grade from American Repertory Ballet and the Princeton Ballet School.

“It’s a big game-changer,” says Smith. “Dance classes are very expensive, and they’re actually getting a free dance education for basically their entire school life.”

Sara Garcia was a Dance Power scholarship winner. Now in 10th grade, she’s turning her attention to colleges with strong dance programs. “The people that I’ve met, I never could have imagined without the scholarship,” she says, “like my best friend I met because of this. And to have the teachers, they’re amazing!”

But even those who don’t continue with ballet will take away lessons from Dance Power’s training.

“Just the idea of listening, paying attention, following directions,” lists Smith. “It doesn’t have to be just in dance, but you’re going to need that in all your life skills.”

For many, though, these 20 weeks of dance can instill or cement a life-long love of the art form.

Romany Lopez is a 2014 Dance Power scholarship winner. “Ballet is, I like it because it has a lot of moves that I like,” he says. “The best move is when I do the coupé passé, and that’s my favorite move too.”

Scholarship recipients like Lopez will continue their training with the company at the beginning of next school year — just as a new group of students begin practicing their pliés.