Teacher Feature: Kaila Lewis, Head of the Children’s Division
Meet PBT School’s Head of the Children’s Division Kaila Lewis! A Pittsburgh native, Kaila has been teaching with PBT School since 2006, but her history with the School goes all the way back to her early years as a dancer. Kaila trained at PBT School, where she went through the student division, the high school program and the graduate program. Read on to learn about her journey with PBT and her passion for teaching ballet to young children!
How long have you been teaching at PBT School?
I have been teaching at PBT for 16 years. I became the Children’s Division Coordinator 8 years ago and just recently became the Head of the Children’s Division.
What drew you to teaching children?
I was naturally drawn to working with children and I just love how genuine and magical they are.
Can you share why you believe that dancing ballet is rewarding for young children?
I think ballet offers many things that can be carried with someone, even after they have finished dancing. Ballet offers discipline and structure, and eventually students must learn time management. It also can create a lifelong passion and appreciation.
As a graduate of the student division, high school program and the graduate program of PBT School, how have you seen the school progress during your time with PBT?
It has been exciting to watch the school expand over the years. I was also proud to watch how the school adapted and persevered during the pandemic.
How do you stay calm and organized during teaching?
I have always been an organized person and I always carry a notebook and a planner with me. I implement discipline and structure from the very beginning with my students. I work hard to carry those expectations through their primary years, so that it is never an issue.
What is the most rewarding part of teaching?
My favorite thing about my job is that I get to facilitate a child’s love for ballet. I get to create magical experiences that turn ballet into a passion.
Interested in enrolling your child in our Children’s Division classes? Join us for a free Open House at the Children’s Division New Family Day on Friday, August 26 from 10 a.m. – noon!
PBT School Graduate Students Take Center Stage
A major part of the PBT School experience is the opportunity for students to perform on the big stage. The most recent opportunity for PBT students to perform was at Open Air: A Series in Celebration of the Performing Arts, which was held this year from June 9 – 12 at the Allegheny Riverfront.
However, PBT School student performance opportunities were not just limited to Open Air this year; many graduate students saw the opportunity to perform in Susan Jaffe’s Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra last May as well as previous productions of The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker.
Three graduate students from the PBT School — Cecilia Hernandez, Gracie Jean Joiner and Jesse Joiner — reflect on the performance opportunities that PBT has offered and what they’ve learned from their experiences onstage.
What is your favorite part about performing? Least favorite part?
- Gracie: My favorite part of performing is the sense of calm I feel when I step on stage. I also love that you can be anyone on stage. Playing a character and having an audience respond is amazing! My least favorite part of performing is that there just isn’t enough of it. Even with all the performance opportunities, I would always love to be on stage more.
- Cecilia: My favorite part about performing is anytime I am on stage. I love the adrenaline, the freedom and getting more energy from the audience. And my least favorite parts are the moments right before getting on stage where I stress about what could go wrong. But that quickly ends once I step on stage, and then it’s my favorite part!
- Jesse: My favorite part of performing is getting ready and into costume and getting into character. There’s nothing in the world that’s as incredible as dancing on stage with lights and costumes with your friends. I honestly don’t have a least favorite part of performing. During long runs of shows like The Nutcracker, it’s a lot of hours and shows and it feels draining and tiring, but as soon as the curtain goes up you forget all about it.
What is your favorite type of dance you’ve performed?
- Gracie: I started ballet at a later age and trying to catch up to more advanced dancers initially left me without much confidence in performing classical ballet. As I’ve continued my training with PBT School and gained confidence, classical ballet has become my absolute favorite.
- Cecilia: I’ve performed many styles of dance (modern, jazz, hip hop, contemporary) but ballet will always be my favorite to perform!
- Jesse: My favorite type of dance I performed is classical. Classical is the style I feel most comfortable in because you rely on your technique and rehearsals once you get on stage.
How was your experience with Open Air this year? What role did you dance?
- Gracie: I had a great experience with Open Air this year. We all felt so much love and support from the other dancers, instructors and audience members! It was an honor to represent the PBT school dancing as second girl in the pas de trois from Swan Lake.
- Cecilia: Performing in PBT’s Open Air this year was so fun! I performed the role of Kitri in the Don Quixote Act III pas de deux. Working with my partner and sharing the outdoor stage after lots of hard work was a beautiful experience. It was also lovely to see the other dance organizations from Pittsburgh performing. The Open Air collaboration truly highlights and shows appreciation for the Pittsburgh dance community.
- Jesse: I had a great time in Open Air this year; it was a great performance opportunity! I danced the role of Benno in the Swan Lake pas de trois.
What has been your favorite performance experience with PBT?
- Gracie: It’s difficult to narrow down my favorite performance experience with PBT because I’ve had so many wonderful opportunities over the last three years. This year, I particularly loved performing the pas de trois from Swan Lake in the Spring Showcase and Open Air. We were able to rehearse the piece with several instructors who guided us and also let us make it our own.
- Cecilia: My favorite performance experience with PBT was performing in Susan Jaffe’s Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra this past May. I had the pleasure of dancing the Swan corps and Czardas corps. It was an absolute dream to be a part of the rehearsal and performance process. My favorite moment is when the Swan corps open Act IV with a slow dance. The music and the strength and unity of the swans is such a special moment that I will never forget.
- Jesse: My favorite performance with PBT has been The Sleeping Beauty. Getting to dance with a professional company for the first time was an experience I will never forget.
How does dancing alongside company dancers and other students inform your own dancing?
- Gracie: There is always something to be learned from dancing alongside or even just watching other dancers, whether in class or during performances. When watching company dancers and fellow students, I like to focus on the little nuances that make their performances spectacular and emulate those in my own way.
- Cecilia: Watching and observing company members has certainly helped me understand what company life is truly like. There’s a level of professionalism and collaboration that they present that motivates me. In rehearsals, they are quick to ask questions and work together to make the final product as clean as can be. Many company members would help me with understanding the music and spacing of certain dances. I have learned so much from my fellow Graduate students as well. They have guided me in adapting to longer dance schedules. They have encouraged me on my off days and I would do the same for them. We motivate each other in classes and rehearsals and offer suggestions to help improve our technique and artistry. We are like a family!
- Jesse: Every time I dance with company members I learn something new, from how they work in rehearsal to their class work. There is always a chance to learn in any setting.
How has your experience performing with PBT helped to shape you as a dancer?
Gracie: I came to PBT with lots of technical knowledge, but absolutely no clue what to do with it. Having so many opportunities to perform with PBT in different locations and styles has helped me to improve both the consistency of my technique and artistry.
Cecilia: Performing with PBT has helped me grow more professional and developed how I present myself on stage. I’m so grateful to have had many performance opportunities to help me experiment with who I am as a dancer.
Jesse: PBT has shaped me into the dancer I am today. I came to PBT four years ago and this is where my technique has been shaped and created. Dancing alongside the company has really helped me learn how to work smart and work hard in class and rehearsal.
Siri Vedel’s Journey in the Intensive Summer Program
Siri Kiilerich Vedel was born in Copenhagen, Denmark and began dancing at the age of 3. She trained at the Royal Danish Ballet School and Tivoli Ballet School before she moved across the Atlantic Ocean at fifteen to join the University of North Carolina School of the Arts’ high school ballet program, her first experience with the American ballet world. Siri has spent the last several weeks dancing in level 5 of PBT School’s Intensive Summer Program (ISP) and will begin training in the School’s Pre-professional graduate program this September.
Read on to learn how Siri feels she has grown as a dancer and as a person throughout the five weeks of ISP!
What interested you about PBT School’s ISP?
PBT School’s ISP interested me with its variety in classes and impressive group of instructors. This summer was my first American 5-week summer intensive and I was intrigued to experience a summer with PBT, full of exploration and growth. The faculty and other students created an incredibly supportive and positive environment throughout the program, which made the experience so joyful. I found that I easily improved in a place where everyone around me strived to succeed and see others succeed.
What were some of your favorite ISP classes?
My favorite ISP classes were repertoire and partnering/coda class. My level learned “Shades” from La Bayadère for our repertoire class. The hours preparing and polishing our piece for the end-of-program showcase taught us how to work as a group and as individual dancers on stage. The individual coaching during repertoire made the experience feel personal and the group corrections created a feeling of unity, weaving my level together as the weeks went by. In partnering/coda class we worked on the Tchaikovsky coda, which required us to work closely with our partner. It was so much fun to see how our partnering skills progressed and how we all improved on the coda over the course of the class.
How do you feel that you have grown as a dancer since you started ISP?
Since I have started ISP, I feel that my technique, artistry and presentation of myself have improved. The structure of our weekly schedule allows for quick technical improvement and before I knew it, I could do things I was not able to do when I first began the program. The supplementary strength classes, such as Pilates and yoga gave me a solid foundation for my long days of training and prevented me from any injuries. Dancing with a new group of people and faculty pushed me out of my comfort zone and I quickly got more confident in presenting myself and my own way of moving. This skill was an important one, as our schedule with variations classes and repertoire required us to present ourselves on a weekly basis.
What has been your favorite activity outside of the studio?
The excursions outside of our dance classes allowed us to grow closer across all levels and it fostered our collaborative atmosphere. My favorite activity outside of the studio was the Gateway Clipper cruise. It was a great way to celebrate our hard work across the whole program, while also getting the chance to see Pittsburgh from the river. It was an activity we were all looking forward to and it was great to look back and see how far we had come since the beginning of the program. My friendships I have created during this program have been so inspiring and I have loved getting to know all the people in my level both inside and outside of the studio.
What is something that has surprised you about ISP?
Something that surprised me at ISP was the incredibly supportive environment that both the faculty and students have created during the program. Whenever there was something frustrating or difficult in my classes, both my friends and the faculty were ready to assist and help me improve, providing a positive and encouraging atmosphere. The supportive environment at PBT made me feel comfortable to experiment and work hard in all my classes, which pushed me to improve fast and efficiently.
Do you think you will return to PBT next summer? Why or why not?
I would love to do another summer with PBT, as this summer has gifted me with so many new tools for my training. I am also very interested in doing the Company Experience program at PBT because preparing and performing at the ISP showcase was one of the things I enjoyed most about my summer. The ISP has opened my eyes for the many great programs that PBT offers and I am so excited and grateful to elevate my training at PBT in the fall.
What are your hopes for the future?
I hope to have a professional career with a ballet company. Training at PBT this summer has provided me with further skills to strengthen my technique that I will use in my pursuit of my goals in the future. I have really appreciated the opportunity to train with a school that is so structured and professional, yet also allows for individuality and personal growth. I feel that my summer with PBT has pushed me a step further toward my future professional goals and achievements.
Learn more about PBT School’s Intensive Summer Program and how you can audition for next year’s program below!
Swan Lake Reflections with PBT School Students
PBT School graduate students Ariana Chernyshev and Jacqueline Sugianto recently graced the stages of the Benedum Center in Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra as well as Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse at the PBT School Spring Performance. Ariana and Jackie join us now to reflect on how their training in PBT School prepared them for both performances, what it was like to dance alongside the PBT Company, how it felt to return to live theater and what’s next in their careers as dancers.
What was it like to dance in Susan Jaffe’s newly choreographed Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra?
Ariana: The rehearsal process was as challenging as it was rewarding! Act II is sacrosanct for the corps de ballet, and though much of the choreography remained untouched from Petipa and Ivanov, Ms. Jaffe worked with us on her specifications. The port de bras (or “swan arms”) are full, the arms are elongated, and the footwork is very crisp and precise. I really loved working with my “flock.” Ms. Jaffe has emphasized to us that we were a court of sisters, which was an especially important theme for her choreography in Act IV.
How did your experience dancing in the full production of Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra inform your dancing at the Spring Performance?
Jackie: The main difference between the productions was the scale. While the School’s Spring Performance highlighted Swan Lake, it was mainly focused on the second act of the ballet. I felt more responsibility working with the company because every dancer needed to be very diligent in order to complete all the material in each rehearsal. There was also a considerable amount of acting involved when working on the full-length ballet since the main objective was to immerse the audience in Odette’s tragedy. It was inspiring to learn from the artistic guidance of Ms. Jaffe and dramaturge coach Byam Stevens throughout the process.
Ariana: The ability to bring Ms. Jaffe’s notes from the company’s production into rehearsals for our Spring Performance elevated the quality of our work with the School. The full-length ballet is intentional, each movement layered with purpose. It was a blessing to be able to bring that level of high-quality awareness and artistic depth into our student performances.
After the pandemic, what was the moment where it really hit you that PBT was back in a theater, about to perform for a live audience?
Ariana: The moment it hit me that we were performing for a live audience for The Nutcracker was when the audience began to applaud during the snow scene. It was absolutely exhilarating, and that moment gave me such a rush of excitement and inspiration. Performing Susan Jaffe’s Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra felt very different to me than The Nutcracker because it was a massive production in its premiere. All of the dancers were in a state of high anticipation to share our excitement about these performances with the Pittsburgh audience!
Jackie: I think the moment it really hit me was when I took my mask off backstage before my first Nutcracker show in December 2021. I remember checking my makeup multiple times to make sure the bottom half of my face looked presentable. Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra definitely felt different to me because I took part in more company rehearsals for that production than any other. I also cannot express how excited I was that these shows were accompanied by live performances from the PBT Orchestra.
How do you feel your experience working on Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra has prepared you for the next step in your journey to becoming a professional dancer?
Jackie: Working on Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra was a dream come true. I became familiar with the daily life of a professional dancer. I now understand how company rehearsals are conducted as well as the process of creating a production from square one. I had the opportunity to work with Artistic Director Susan Jaffe and watch all of PBT’s incredible principals and dancers rehearse their roles in the studio. Swan Lake is one of, if not the most important piece of ballet repertoire. These past few months have been a glimpse into the life I am working hard to achieve, and they have only inspired me further.
Ariana: Swan Lake is a staple ballet for a female corps de ballet member and there is a sense of it being a rite of passage. It was demanding both physically and artistically, and because I embraced the challenge, I feel strongly prepared to join the company as an apprentice next season.
How do you feel that you have grown throughout your time at PBT School?
Ariana: PBT School has given me all the tools I needed to achieve my lifelong dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer. Pre-Ballet nurtured my simple love for the elegance, beauty and grace of this art form. The Student Division showed me that performing on stage was exactly what I had envisioned it to be and more, through performances in The Nutcracker and the Spring Performance. This stage in my training also required a gradual increase in commitment and I became more serious about the dedication required to be successful in this career. As a part of the Pre-professional program in high school, my technique was further developed and solidified, and I learned how to face the challenges of this profession head-on. Entering the Graduate program, years of effort and perseverance finally cumulated to allow me to explore my artistry and gave me time to figure out where I fit as an individual in the world of ballet. The person I am today is enmeshed within PBT School, and for that I am forever grateful.
Jackie: I feel that I have grown a lot as a dancer throughout this year in the Graduate program. I have had many opportunities to learn repertoire and dance in front of a live audience. I performed in two student choreography showcases, Land of Enchantment, The Nutcracker performances, and now Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra and the Spring Performance. All of these productions have kept me motivated and have improved my confidence. I am also inspired every day by the talented students who I train with, and I am grateful for the positive guidance and support the teachers here at PBT provide. The dedicated and supportive environment have helped me improve not only in my technique but also in my mental fortitude, which are both necessary traits for a professional dancer.
A Conversation with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School Alumna Rachel Foster
Rachel Foster began her dance journey with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School at the age of 12. Over the years, she worked hard to advance through the levels of the school and eventually was hired into the professional company by former PBT Artistic Director Patricia Wilde. After a couple seasons at PBT, she accepted a position with Pacific Northwest Ballet where she rose to the rank of principal dancer and remained for the rest of her 22 year professional career. Rachel attributes much of her strength as a dancer to her training with PBT School.
PBT School recently caught up with Rachel, now settling into her new role as a teacher, about her experiences throughout her career and how her training at PBT influenced them. Listen to the conversation below!
I feel like a lot of my experience with the school, with having such a well rounded training, was what really helped me. When I first went to Pacific Northwest Ballet [contemporary] was something new that they started to bring in and I feel like I had experience in that that others didn’t.
Cover Photo by Angela Sterling
A Conversation with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School Alumnus James Gilmer
James Gilmer has lived in many cities across the United States throughout his ballet career, but it all began in Pittsburgh. Beginning at the age of eight, James trained with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School until he graduated at 18. Since then, James has been taking the lessons he learned from the School, such as young mens classes with Alan Obuzor and Pre-professional classes with Janet Popeleski, to make his mark in professional companies.
PBT School recently caught up with James, now a dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, about his experiences at PBT and the career that followed. Listen to the conversation below!
I’ve always praised the instruction and the technique that I gained [at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School]. I think back on that stuff all the time whenever I’m in a professional setting. Even if it just takes a little minute to adjust something it’s like, oh wow, I’ve been thinking about that particular thing for years because of somebody at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School.
Cover Photo by Steven Vandervelden
A Conversation with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School Alumna Elenora Morris
Pittsburgh native Elenora Morris began her training with PBT School in 2003 as a Level 1 student and honed her skills over 10 years in the School, graduating as a full-time high school student in 2013. Her decade at PBT helped shape her career, through yearly Nutcracker performances, themed modern classes with PBT faculty and advice that sticks with her to this day – “if you think your knee is straight, think again!”
PBT School recently spoke to Elenora, now a dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen, about her career and her time at PBT. See the interview below!
Wherever I go, I’m grateful for the great training and performing experience I got right in my hometown at PBT, and I always look forward to popping into the studio when I’m home and reconnecting with everyone.
Cover Photos by Natascha Rydvald and Franz Siegert
Instructor Spotlight: Jonathan Breight
You may recognize Jonathan Breight from the stage, where he performs alongside fellow Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre company dancers. Jonathan, however, fills many roles at PBT. Apart from his professional dance career, he dedicates time instructing the Pre-ballet Boys classes in the Children’s Division and, just this fall, he became an instructor for Intermediate Ballet in the Community Division.
Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – Forest Hills
Family: “My Father, Rev. Ronald M. Breight, or ‘The Good Reverend’ as we like to call him, is the Pastor of Christ Lutheran Forest Hills. My Mother, Linda Breight, is a teacher assistant at The Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. I have one older and two younger brothers: Miguel, David and Timothy. My older brother, Miguel, is a specialist in the U.S. Army. David attends The Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf and enjoys competing in the Special Olympics. My youngest brother, Timothy, attends Woodland Hills High school and loves fishing with Dad. Our dogs Bailey and Bella add to the excitement of the house.”
Favorite food: “My favorite food is spaghetti with Alfredo sauce and garlic shrimp.”
Favorite musician/song: “It depends on the day – my music taste is always changing – but today I would say anything “Phantom of the Opera!” Yesterday I would have said Barrette Sisters, but tomorrow might be Rhianna. However, people who know me can tell you I NEVER know the right lyrics to songs, but can make them up as I go!”
Favorite form of exercise: “Pilates with Ann Corrado, our amazing instructor, or TRX with Kristy Boyle!”
Favorite ballet position: “It not a position as much as a step, but I love tour de force into a double soté basque. You feel like you’re just taking up the whole studio and flying through the air!”
How long have you been instructing dance classes?
“I started by assisting with the Pre-ballet Boys classes in 2015 with Andre Reyes. Then in 2017 added Pre-ballet, Preparatory and Level 1 classes. In 2018 I began subbing for open ballet classes at the beginning, intermediate and advanced levels. Now in 2019, I teach regularly on Tuesday for the Intermediate Ballet class.”
How do you find time to balance a professional career and teaching?
“[PBT School Co-directors] Margie [Grunvig] and Dennis [Marshall] are wonderful to work for. They understand that I have a passion for both dancing and teaching and work to schedule teaching hours around the company schedule.”
What’s is the most fulfilling thing about being a ballet instructor?
“I think for me, the most fulfilling part is seeing how much fun a challenging class can be – not only for them, but for myself teaching it as well. The joke about my class is that I teach a ‘ballet boot camp’ class.”
What are some of your goals as an instructor for Intermediate Ballet?
“I want for them all, each class, to leave feeling completely worn out and exhausted as if they have pushed themselves so far they couldn’t do another step.”
What advice would you give someone who wants to start ballet as an adult?
“Take it all one day at a time, because great things come slowly. A great dancer/mentor once told me when I was a student that, ‘every flower blooms at a different time for different lengths of time, as do beautiful ballet dancers.'”
What makes PBT a great place to practice ballet?
“PBT as an organization works to make the experience – from the moment you’re walking in the door to the moment you are walking out – a wonderful, well-thought-out experience that you want to experience over and over again! With great staff, great studios, beautiful accompaniment, wonderful changing area, ample parking – the list goes on with how great PBT makes the entire time that someone spends here.”
Instructor Spotlight: Jamie Murphy
Jamie Murphy does it all. Some days, she’s instructing contemporary and jazz classes to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School Student, Pre-professional and Community Division students, and working for PBT’s education department teaching accessibility classes within the Pittsburgh community. Others, she’s a performer, finding time to shine in the spotlight herself with dance companies around the region. Her enthusiasm and passion for dance make an impact on everyone she comes across. Get to know Jamie – who has been a part of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School family for 12 years – and check out her contemporary classes for ages 14+ on mindbody.com.
Hometown: Youngstown, Ohio
Family: “My awesome parents, Kathy and James, live in Ohio and my older sister and fellow modern dancer lives in Philadelphia.”
Hobbies: “I love crafting, baking, going to arts events and catching up with friends over a glass of wine!”
Favorite food: “Potatoes of any kind!”
Favorite musician/song: “I’ve been a hardcore Elvis fan since the age of 3.”
Favorite form of exercise: “Yoga and dance classes.”
Favorite music genre to dance to: “Anything with a good beat really! I love having an eclectic playlist in class.”
How long have you been instructing dance classes?
“I have been teaching for 14 years. This is my twelfth year with PBT teaching jazz, modern and contemporary in the school, as well as educational outreach and accessibility classes for our education department the past eight years.”
How do you find time to balance a professional career and teaching?
“This can be tricky sometimes. Because I teach a lot, sometimes it is hard for me to take classes for myself. However, I am very lucky to have incredibly supportive directors (Margie Grundvig and Kati Gigler) who allow me the space and time to keep rehearsing, performing and creating outside of PBT.”
Describe your career “epiphany” – the moment you knew this was what you wanted to do professionally.
“I can’t remember a time where dance wasn’t one of the most important parts of my life. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment, because it always just felt like dance was in my future. I will say that I didn’t always intend to become a teacher. After I graduated from Point Park University, I was dancing with a few Pittsburgh-based companies and decided to try teaching to supplement my income. I really unexpectedly grew to love teaching and watching young dancers grow. It was my second year at PBT that really sealed the deal of me wanting to be an educator. It was the first time that I was part of a young dancers “a-ha moment” and I think I was more excited than them about their success.”
What’s the most fulfilling thing about being a dance instructor?
“I really think that my favorite part of being a teacher is watching the students experience new parts of themselves. For example, with the younger students, you see pure joy when watching them stick a pirouette for the first time. Getting to be there to witness their successes is a feeling like nothing else. With the older students, it’s watching the moment they turn from students into artists. Some of the students at PBT, I have had the chance to work with from Level 2 through the grad program. You watch them develop their skills over the years and then there is this beautiful moment where you can see all of that hard work turn into artistry. Getting to be a part of that is pretty awesome.”
What advice would you give someone who wants to try contemporary dance as an adult?
“DO IT!! If you have an interest in something, give it a shot! Contemporary dance really allows you to be expressive and connect to your emotions. You might discover parts of yourself you never knew existed while in the dance studio!”
What are the advantages of taking dance as an adult?
“While, of course, dance provides benefits to one’s health and fitness, I think the biggest advantages are having fun and expressing yourself. My community classes at PBT are always one of the highlights of my week, mostly due to the fact that the people that come are there to have fun and experience something for themselves. We get so busy with our everyday lives and all of the heaviness that the world throws at us. I believe that dance can give us a moment of escape and freedom to experience joy.”
What makes PBT a great place to dance?
“A combination of things makes PBT a great place to dance. We are so lucky to have a great facility that is big enough to offer so many experiences for so many people. Since I started 12 years ago, the Community Division has grown so much with so many different types of classes to choose from. I also love that PBT is making a huge effort to be inclusive by offering so many accessible classes for differently-abled bodies and people with neurodiversities. On top of all of that, I think it is really awesome that PBT is able to offer so many classes with live accompaniment. Whether it is percussion or piano, the students are so lucky to have the opportunity to learn in an environment with live musicians. I’m so proud to be on staff at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.”
Instructor Spotlight: Kristy Boyle
You may recognize Kristy Boyle from a Pilates or barre fitness open division class at PBT Studios. What you may not know is that she is PBT School’s dance and fitness programs manager. She puts in the work during class and behind the scenes every day managing dance and fitness programs for the hundreds of Community Division members who walk through PBT’s doors weekly. Get to know Kristy here, and check out the class schedule on MindBody.com to meet her in person!
Family: I have one sister and an extremely large extended family. I am one of 21 cousins on my dad’s side alone!
Hobbies: Swimming, paddle boarding and hiking in the summer, skiing in the winter. I am not much of a cook, but I do love to try new local restaurants. In my down time I like to read and catch up on sleep.
Favorite food: Shrimp tacos
Favorite musician/song: Anything Justin Timberlake
Favorite form of exercise to teach: It’s a tie between Barre Fitness and TRX
Favorite form of exercise to do: Strength training
Favorite Pilates stretch/position: I love the side leg series!
How long have you been instructing dance and fitness classes?
I started teaching in college at Slippery Rock University.
Describe your career “epiphany” – the moment you knew this was what you wanted to do professionally.
I always knew that I wanted to help people and to teach in some capacity. Dance has been a constant in my life since I was 3 years old, so it only seemed natural to combine my love of dance with teaching and helping people to meet their health and wellness goals.
What are some of your goals as Manager of Dance & Fitness Programs?
My goal when I took on the position was to expand on the current class schedule, offer a wider variety of classes that complemented our already popular ballet classes, and to give Pittsburgh the opportunity to train like a dancer. The Community Division continues to multiply in attendance every year, and I want to continue to expand our teaching staff and to bring in a wider range of clientele.
What’s the most fulfilling thing about being a fitness and dancer instructor?
I had a dance professor in college who said, “If you can walk, you can dance.” That quote has stuck with me ever since and is perfectly applicable for my role with PBT in the way that we open our doors to everyone to dance and move! I also feel most fulfilled in experiencing the positive results of my students and clients. Whether it be an adult client who is reaching their fitness goals and feels happier and stronger or my Pre-professional students who are working to improve their technique and keep their bodies injury free through cross-training, I get to see the positive outcomes of so many different people here.
What advice would you give someone who wants to be a fitness and dance instructor?
Educate yourself. Take the time to receive the correct training and certifications. Always continue to grow as an instructor by attempting to read everything that you can about the ever changing industry.
What are the advantages of group classes? How about private personal training sessions?
Group classes give you a welcoming community atmosphere to keep you motivated to exercise while you are being led by a top notch instructor. If you have a personal training session scheduled, you know that your trainer is going to hold you accountable for showing up and making the most of your workout time. The exercises will be catered around your goals and will give you exactly what you need to improve.
What makes PBT a great place to sweat?
The Community Division gives you so many options! And you do not have to be a dancer! PBT has high quality, dedicated staff who will provide quality instruction. Bonus: you get to take class in the same beautiful studios that our professional company rehearses in!
Summer in the Studio: Keeping Dance in Summer Break
Summer may be nearing its end, but there are plenty of long, sun-drenched days remaining. This means there is still plenty of time to fit dance into your kid’s list of fun, engaging summer activities!
“Dancing in the summer is a wonderful opportunity for students to come and enjoy training without the stress of school and their year-round schedules,” Kaila Lewis, PBT School Children’s Division coordinator, says. “Summer is a great time to clean up the steps students already have learned and it is also a great time to learn something new.”
Summer classes and workshops at PBT School are a special treat, but they are also a tool for consistency and growth.
“Three months is a long time to go without dancing,” Lewis says. “Keeping the body moving is so important for a young dancer. The body not only has positions and steps to remember, but the muscles have to remember as well.”
Shorter workshops can be a great way for young dancers to try new and different things while still incorporating some consistency into their dance training over their summer break. This year, PBT School is hosting Beauty and the Beast and Ella Bella Ballerina workshops at PBT Studios. Ballet is a storytelling art, and what better stories to tell than classic fairy-tales!
For students ages 3-7, the Ella Bella Ballerina workshop is a unique blend of building ballet technique foundations and exploring the stories behind classic ballets like The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. This beloved children’s book series-turned-workshop brings fairy-tale ballets to life for budding dancers, while they enjoy special summer perks not always available during the school year, like visiting the costume shop or peeking into a PBT company class.
The Beauty and the Beast workshop is available for students 8-10 years old. This special story ballet workshop can help kids become more confident dancers and learn from one another. Dance is a wonderful way for kids to grow and explore their imagination, creativity and curiosity.
“The workshops are a tremendous way for our teachers to get to know these young dancers’ personalities while working on storytelling and technique,” PBT School Marjorie Grundvig, co-director of PBT School, says.
New Dancer Alert: Four New Company Members Signed for 2019-2020 Season
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT) Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr has signed four new dancers to the company roster for PBT’s 50th Anniversary Season in 2019-2020, which opens Oct. 25-27, with “Giselle” with the PBT Orchestra.
PBT School graduate students Allison Durand, of Charleston, South Carolina, and Jack Hawn, of Detroit, Michigan, will both join the company as apprentices for the 2019-2020 Season. Two students of Pacific Northwest Ballet School, Grace Rookstool, of Whidbey Island, Washington and Sam DerGregorian, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, will also join PBT as apprentices.
Durand and Hawn will make their final performances as students in the school’s two year-end performances: Pre-Professional Showcases, May 17-20, at Point Park University, and Spring Performance 2019, May 24-25, at the Byham Theater.
In other roster changes for the 2019-2020 Season, dancers Marisa Grywalski, of Columbus, Ohio, and Corey Bourbonniere of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, were promoted to soloists. Single ticket sales for “Giselle” and other 50th Anniversary Season productions open Aug. 6, at www.pbt.org, 412-456-6666 or the Box Office at Theater Square. Tickets start at $28. Subscription packages, starting at $81, are available now by visiting www.pbt.org or calling 412-454-9107.
About the New Dancers
Sam DerGregorian is from Albuquerque, New Mexico. He started dancing at age 9 with La Mesa Dance Academy, and at age 16 he was a member of the New Mexico Ballet Company. While at NMBC, he performed in productions including “The Nutcracker” and “The Wizard of Oz.” He attended summer courses at Walnut Hill School for the Arts, Ballet Chicago, Miami City Ballet School and Pacific Northwest Ballet School. He was invited to join the PNBS Professional Division, where he trained for two years. While at PNB he performed with the company, including productions of George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “The Sleeping Beauty.” With the school, he performed in productions including original works, Jerome Robbins’ “Fanfare,” “Pinocchio” and “Snow White.”
Allison Durand, originally from Charleston, South Carolina, has trained in PBT’s Graduate Program and Intensive Summer Programs since 2016. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she studied with Michael and Olga Wise of Robert Ivey Ballet Academy; Charleston County School of the Arts; Amanda Neikirk; and Carroll Thompson. She also attended the American Ballet Theatre Summer Intensive. She has performed in “Giselle,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Romeo and Juliet,” George Balanchine’s “Rubies,” “The Great Gatsby” and “The Nutcracker” with PBT, and has choreographed numerous works on fellow students during her time in the grad program.
Jack Hawn received his early training near his hometown of Detroit, Michigan before joining the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School in 2012. Since then, he has performed in PBT productions such as “The Sleeping Beauty,” “Le Corsaire,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Nutcracker,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Great Gatsby.” Additionally, Jack has composed original music for two PBT School ballets: “Dovetail” and “Gust.”
Grace Rookstool was born and raised on Whidbey Island, Washington. Her love of ballet began watching her older sisters dance at local studios on the island. She joined them at age 3, and began her classical ballet training at Pacific Northwest Ballet School in Seattle when she was 8 years old. She spent the next eight years in the Student Division and another two years completing the Professional Division Program. She has had the opportunity to dance with the company in many productions, including “The Nutcracker,” “Swan Lake,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” During her time in the PD Division, she was selected for an exchange program with Dresden Semperoper Ballett where she performed as a guest apprentice in “La Bayadère.”
New Dancer Spotlight: Colin McCaslin
Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr recruited Colin McCaslin, of Vineland, New Jersey, from PBT School’s full-time high school program, where he trained for two years. Before joining PBT School, McCaslin trained with the Atlantic City Ballet School under Phyllis Papa and in Miami City Ballet School’s summer intensive. He has performed with PBT in The Nutcracker and West Side Story Suite and with Atlantic City Ballet in Carmen and Swan Lake. His repertoire also includes excerpts from Giselle, La Sylphide, The Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, Paquita and Western Symphony. Get to know Colin here.
Hometown: Vineland, NJ
Family: “I come from a family of 13, two of whom were adopted from China. My parents are pretty much the most selfless people you’d ever meet; they’ve always done their best to make sure I could do what I loved.”
Pre-performance ritual: “I usually just listen to music and prepare myself mentally.”
Hobbies: “I don’t really have too many hobbies, but hanging out with the people I love and a good cup of coffee are two of my favorite things.”
Favorite food: “Salmon (if done well), but I also love pizza, sausage and sushi.”
Favorite musician: Paul McCartney
Ultimate dream role: Basilio in Don Quixote
Favorite role to date: “I had a lot of fun performing the first movement of Western Symphony, but I also loved performing Paquita (in PBT School’s Pre-professional Showcases 2018).”
How do you think you’ve grown during your time in the PBT School Pre-professional Division? How has it prepared you for a professional ballet career?
“I feel that I’ve established a strong foundation as well as been given many challenging opportunities from which I can continue to learn and grow. I think in a lot of ways the many rehearsals throughout the day are not unlike that of a company schedule. The dynamic of the Pre-professional Division really does a great job of preparing dancers for a professional career. I feel I’ve become a lot stronger and more confident having been given so many incredible opportunities.”
Describe your Ballet “epiphany” – the moment you knew this is what you wanted to do professionally.
“I never really had one moment, but every time I go on stage I’m reminded of why and how much I love this art form.”
What are some of your personal goals for your first season as a company dancer?
“Just to keep on working; everything can always be better.”
What’s the most fulfilling thing about being a ballet dancer?
“I think the most fulfilling thing about being a ballet dancer is bowing after a good performance, knowing that you gave it your all.”
What are you most looking forward to dancing next season?
“I’m definitely looking forward to The Great Gatsby.”
If I weren’t a ballet dancer…”I think I’d be an attorney.”
New Dancer Alert: Four New Company Members Signed for 2018-2019 Season
See all four dancers on stage this weekend in Spring Performance 2018, their final performance with PBT School! Snag seats here.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr has signed four more dancers to the company roster for the 2018-2019 Season, which opens Oct. 26-28, with Mozart in Motion with the PBT Orchestra.
Orr recruited the following dancers from PBT School’s Pre-professional Division: Jonathan Breight, of Pittsburgh; Colin McCaslin of Vineland, New Jersey; Yu-Chieh Chao of Pingtung, Taiwan; and Caitlyn Mendicino of Pittsburgh. All four dancers will join the company as apprentices.
Earlier this season, Orr announced the hire of PBT School graduate students Christian García Campos, of Puebla, Mexico, and Tommie Kesten, of Pittsburgh, who also will join the company as apprentices for the 2018-2019 Season.
In total, Orr has hired six dancers from PBT School’s Pre-professional Division this year.
“The Pre-professional Division is where dancers begin making the transition from student to professional. At this stage, dancers are honing their performance skills, cultivating their individuality as artists and testing their technique in company repertoire,” Orr said. “It has been a pleasure to work closely with these dancers. They’ve stood out on stage in both student and professional performances, and they’ve proven their passion, not only for their art but for this company.”
PBT School’s Pre-professional Division prepares students for professional ballet careers with an intensive training schedule, extensive performance opportunities and high-quality repertoire. The program also serves as a powerful cultivation and recruiting tool for PBT’s company roster: More than half of PBT’s professional dancers are PBT School alumni.
The four new dancers, along with García Campos and Kesten, will make their final performance as students in the school’s Spring Performance 2018, May 25-26, at the Byham Theater.
Later, they’ll make their professional debuts at PBT’s free Ballet Under the Stars performance at 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19, at Hartwood Acres, followed by Mozart in Motion, the company’s main-stage season opener, Oct. 26-28, at the Benedum Center.
About the New Dancers
Pittsburgh native Jonathan Breight has trained in PBT School’s Pre-professional Division since 2013 — first as a full-time high school student and then as a Graduate student. Breight also has participated in PBT School’s Intensive Summer Program and in Point Park University’s International Summer Dance Program. Breight has performed in PBT productions of “West Side Story Suite,” “PBT: New Works,” “Swan Lake,” “The Nutcracker,” “Alice in Wonderland” “Giselle” and “Beauty and The Beast.” He also teaches pre-ballet classes for PBT School’s Children’s Division and assists PBT’s education department with adaptive dance classes for students with special needs. He will perform in excerpts from George Balanchine’s “Western Symphony” and in PBT Principal dancer Yoshiaki Nakano’s “The Symphony” among other works at PBT School’s Spring Performance 2018.
A native of Pingtung, Taiwan, Chao has trained in PBT School’s Pre-professional Division as a full-time high school student since 2015. Prior to PBT School, he trained with the Taipei National University of Arts. Chao has performed in PBT productions of “The Nutcracker,” “PBT: New Works” and “West Side Story Suite” and in PBT School performances of “Etudes” and the Bluebird pas de deux from “The Sleeping Beauty.” He will perform in “Graduation Ball” and excerpts from “Western Symphony” among other works at PBT School’s Spring Performance 2018.
Colin McCaslin, of Vineland, New Jersey, has trained for two year’s in PBT School’s Pre-professional Division as a member of the full-time high school program. Before joining PBT School, McCaslin trained with the Atlantic City Ballet School under Phyllis Papa and in Miami City Ballet School’s summer intensive. He has performed with PBT in “The Nutcracker” and “West Side Story Suite” and with Atlantic City Ballet in “Carmen” and “Swan Lake.” His repertoire also includes excerpts from “Giselle,” “La Sylphide,” “The Sleeping Beauty” and “Don Quixote.” McCaslin will perform in “Graduation Ball” as well as excerpts from “Paquita” and “Western Symphony” at PBT School’s Spring Performance 2018.
Pittsburgh native Caitlyn Mendicino has trained in PBT School’s Graduate Program since 2016. She began ballet classes at PBT at age 4 and continued her training in Pittsburgh with Nicolas Petrov, PBT’s founding artistic director, and Mansur Kamelatdinov in 2007. She continued at the Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh and went on to graduate from North Carolina School of the Arts. She danced as an apprentice with Charlotte Ballet for two years before joining the PBT School Graduate Program. She also has completed summer intensives at American Ballet Theatre, Ballet Austin and Boston Ballet among others. Mendicino has performed in PBT productions of “Swan Lake,” “The Nutcracker,” “Dracula,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Giselle.” Her repertoire also includes “The Sleeping Beauty,” “Le Corsaire,” and Balanchine’s “Valse Fantasie” and “The Four Temperaments.” Mendicino will perform in excerpts from “Swan Lake” and “Western Symphony” at PBT School’s Spring Performance 2018.
Learn about fellow PBT School graduates and incoming company dancers, Christian García Campos and Tommie Kesten, here.
10 Summer Intensive Takeaways
The launch of PBT School’s annual Intensive Summer Program quickly brings PBT to life during the company’s quiet summer break. Students ages 12-22 flow out into the hallways and lounges during their breaks; stretching, talking, and relaxing in their downtime. They practice six days a week, spending over 180 hours in the studio. But, in talking to 10 of these 225 students you wouldn’t realize the intensity of their schedule unless you asked. Their passion out shined any fatigue they may have felt as they described some of their biggest challenges and lessons from the past five weeks.
Hometown: Charleston, SC
“Just the incredible amount of progress you can see in yourself and in other people in only five weeks is really neat. I would say probably one of the biggest challenges is being self critical and learning to work in a positive way… not being afraid of failing and focusing on the possibilities of what you can do, and really allowing yourself to learn what you can from teachers, because you can’t really learn anything if you’re afraid of failing.”
Hometown: Takoma Park, MD
“The teachers care for the students’ futures, not just right in the present working on their technique. When I get corrections from certain teachers or see others corrections given, it’s more ‘when you’re twenty you’re going to have to be able to do this in a company.’ It’s more future-oriented.”
Hometown: Silver Spring, MD
Level: Men 2B
“Coming to ISP made me realize that I’m capable of a lot more than I thought. I used to think, ‘Oh that role isn’t for me’ or, ‘That variation isn’t something that I feel comfortable doing.’ But, with working with, say Christopher (Budzynski) or Li Chou (Cheng), you get crossover with the company, and I figured out that I actually can achieve those variations, those roles, and bring them energy.”
Hometown: Akron, OH
“(The teachers) are all amazingly qualified and they care; you can really see. They give us corrections and they want us to improve. All of the teachers are very particular about their details, especially in the port de bras which is really nice, because I like Balanchine a lot so sometimes I lose the classical flowiness of my arms. They really pay attention to that, it’s something I can work on to have my positions where they need to be.”
Hometown: Curitiba, Brazil
“The most surprising thing for me is how the American dancers helped me every day and how they talked to me. They were really friendly.”
Hometown: Virginia Beach, VA
“The most changing thing for me was coming into class every day and being around a group of kids where everyone is very serious and dedicated…I would say the biggest challenge is adapting to each teacher and remembering specific things they liked compared to other teachers.”
Hometown: Austin, TX
Level: Men 2B
“Taking care of myself is probably a big one – my body and how I’m feeding myself especially. It’s been interesting figuring out how to get through an 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. day.”
Hometown: Denver, CO
“Just the experience. I think all the excursions are so fun. And the classes. I’ve never taken jazz or contemporary before; I just do strictly ballet, but they’re so fun and I think I want to do more of it now. Introduction to that has been pretty awesome.”
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Level: Men 1
“Holding your position. I make sure when the teacher gives me a correction that I try to do that as much as I can and remember to hold my arm in a special way…I had my first official pas de deux class here and it was fun, though kind of hard.”
Hometown: Puebla, Mexico
Level: Men 2
“I’ve been here since the (school) year for the grad program. But for the summer I think I’m getting in better shape, having all-day technique classes – every day.”