Westerville News & Public Opinion

BalletMet's Intensive Program fits the name

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Westerville resident Simone Armour, 14, (center) warms up during her modern dance class at BalletMet Dance Academy Summer Intensive Programs "Technique and Beyond" July 18.
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Dance students from all over the world give up summer jobs and vacations to go back to school for a summer dance program at BalletMet Dance Academy in Columbus.

After a series of auditions, more than 140 young ballet dancers from all over the world participated in BalletMet Dance Academy Summer Intensive Programs "Technique and Beyond."

From 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., dancers practice ballet technique, pointe, modern, jazz, flamenco and character.

"If you look at classical ballet companies, they are doing classical ballet and contemporary dance. We're trying to train the dancers of tomorrow to be versatile," said first-year BalletMet Academy Director Tim Lynch. "Being exposed to this now, they are going to get that advantage and edge to be chosen for things. It's not just ballet anymore (that's) just not enough."

The program is intended for young dancers who aspire to dance professionally. It exposes students to the lifestyle of a professional dancer by allowing them to learn from BalletMet's senior academy faculty and company artistic staff, and participate in company life.

Westerville resident Molly Thvedt, 20, is studying dance at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., and participated in her second Summer Intensive program at BalletMet Dance Academy. She said the program is named appropriately: intense.

"It's been really challenging this year," Thvedt said. "Yesterday I was on pointe for six hours. It's really intense."

Students spend much of their time dancing, but they also take enrichment classes, such as dance history, dance wellness, music, yoga and acting.

These additional classes help the students with strength and body awareness.

"Having that information of body alignment and injury prevention helps them stay healthy," Lynch said. "The information we're giving them is something they could take back to their peers or schools. The more knowledge they have, the better equipped they will be as a dancer."

Though students receive a well-rounded dance education, spending several hours of intensive dancing can cause injuries.

In a 17-year-long study from 1991 to 2007, researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital found that 113,000 children between the ages of 3 and 19 visited the hospital due to dance-related injuries.

Most common dance injuries are sprains and strains, and likely due to falls. It is most common that dancers injure their lower extremities -- legs, knees and ankles.

Simone Armour, a Westerville resident and sophomore at the Wellington School, participated for the first time in the BalletMet Summer Intensive Program and sprained her ankle. Armour continued to dance despite the injury, but tried to take it easy, too, to let her ankle heal properly.

"We do get injured a lot, especially on pointe," Armour said. "But it's fun and in the end, it's worth it."

Lynch said few dancers have injured themselves in the summer program, but it does happen. BalletMet works with Ohio State University physical therapists who have experience with dance to help dancers recover quickly and learn more about prevention.

"In summer programs, there tends to be injuries but because they aren't used to the pointe work. They aren't used to being on their toes so long. Maybe they take one class a day at their home school, but this is intense.

"Dancers tend to have a high pain tolerance. As faculty, you have to look and judge them based on facial expressions. Over time you just know the student and know their facial expressions," Lynch said.

Students learn important skills beyond dance technique. Many students said they learn to become more confident through dancing. They hope that confidence will help lead them to a professional dance career.

"I started out being really timid in my movement. Being able to express myself without words has helped me express myself with words," Thvedt said. "I hope this will get me to my goal to dancing with a professional company someday."

Armour said the program has taught her that she wants to dance professionally.

"Before the intensive program, I wasn't sure if I wanted to go to a more active field in college or go to a liberal arts school when I graduate," she said. "Now I realized I want to do something in the dance field."

Only a small percentage of dancers dance professionally, Lynch said. Even though the students may not have a career in dancing, he hopes they will never lose the passion for the arts.

"What we're ultimately teaching them is life skills. We're stressing determination and following through and being very focused," he said. "All these skills, they can take on with them. It will make them better students and future leaders in the community. Hopefully they will still love the arts."

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