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.”
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 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.
Since launching the PBT School Expansion Plan in 2009, PBT has marked major milestones from the opening of PBT’s first student dormitory to the addition of new sprung studio floors and an expanded reception area at the PBT Studios. This spring, PBT will advance the next phase of the plan with a project to improve safety and increase campus parking for students, dancers and visitors.
Following the recent purchase of PBT’s neighboring property on Liberty Avenue in the Strip District, PBT has scheduled demolition in late May of the former Liberty Mart building located next to the studios. The lot will be repurposed to create more than 35 new parking spaces on the same side of the street as the studios, reducing the need for families to students to cross busy Liberty Avenue from PBT’s overflow parking lot.
“With an annual PBT School enrollment of 900 students, combined with visits from company members, staff and our extended PBT family, we are host to a total of 2,000 people coming and going from the PBT Studios each week,” said PBT Executive Director Harris Ferris. “By investing in the growth of our campus, we can continue to increase the training, education and audience engagement programs that distinguish PBT’s impact in the Pittsburgh community.”
PBT purchased the property as part of the School Expansion Plan to support growing enrollment in PBT School’s Children’s, Student, Pre-Professional and Adult Open Divisions and attendance at community engagement events hosted at the PBT Studios. The property expansion increased PBT’s campus footprint to more than 60,000 square feet.
In addition to parking expansion, the property also lays the foundation for the final phase of the expansion plan: the construction of an annex building with three new studio spaces to accommodate a projected 60 percent increase in PBT School enrollment and overall organizational growth.
For a professional ballerina, it’s not uncommon to dance through multiple pairs of pointe shoes in just one rehearsal week. But for most female dancers, their first pair of pointe shoes is one set that they’ll always remember.
Last week, a group of 21 students from PBT School’s Level II marked this significant rite of passage for the aspiring ballerina when they stepped into their first pair of pointe shoes at a class fitting.
“What I tell [students] is that ballet is not necessarily a competitive art or sport where we win something, whether it be a trophy, a prize, a place, a medal, a game… Really one of the most important achievements is that step into pointe shoes. In a way it’s our trophy,” said PBT School Principal Anastasia Wovchko, who guided the pointe shoe fitting.
In ballet, advancing from ballet slippers to pointe shoes symbolizes an important turning point in the training of a young dancer, and requires years of discipline, dedication and training to achieve the necessary level of muscle strength and control. At PBT School, the initiation to pointe happens only once a year to a group of 20 to 25 female students at an average age of 10 years old.
The expectation in the air was palpable last week at The Dancer’s Pointe in the Strip District, where the class met as a group to mark the milestone together. Surrounded by family members, dancers patiently waited to step up to the full-length mirror – and the store’s small barre – and go up on pointe for the first time. Pointe shoe fittings are an incredibly individualized process with numerous brands and styles to choose from, so Wovchko and staff of The Dancer’s Pointe evaluated each dancer’s fit before determining the final pair of shoes.
“It has to be to perfection. When they get that beautiful, shiny new shoe….it becomes part of our body,” Wovchko said. I guess that’s one of the most important things, it’s meant to look as though we’re floating. That we can things with such speed and accuracy on our toes…and look so airy….It’s really such a special tool.”
Level II student Natalie Beattie, 12, tried seven styles of pointe shoes until she arrived at the right fit.
“It felt really good,” Beattie said of her first experience on pointe. “It’s a big accomplishment for ballet dancers to get them. All the older girls wear them to dance; it’s just telling you that you made it that far.”
Beattie said she’s looking forward to the difference pointe shoes make in her dancing (especially her pirouettes), adding that it’s special “just how graceful [ballerinas] look in them…how beautiful the steps look when you use them.”
Following this first fitting, students will receive detailed guidance from Wovchko and other PBT School faculty for the best methods to sew ribbons and elastic to their shoes, break them in properly, and of course, their first class exercises on pointe.
At the end of the evening of pointe shoe fittings, Wovchko reached into her bag to show the Level II girls her own first pair of pointe shoes that she saved as a memento from the time she was their age.
“We have the most special tool, this pointe shoe. I always tell them, this first pair, you can never throw away. You just have to keep them,” Wovchko said. “I still have that first pair….it’s just such a special piece of art itself.”
Although PBT School pianist Ellen Gozion is well-known at PBT for her classical accompaniment, she will travel to New York City this month for a major musical accomplishment of a completely different genre – American folk music.
When she’s not in the studio accompanying PBT School ballet classes, Gozion specializes in folk singing and banjo playing, and most recently teamed up with Chatham Baroque as a guest musician for the group’s American Music series. In a unique cross-over collaboration, the traditionally classical Chatham Baroque chose to feature Appalachian music for the series and for the musicians’ American Music Abroad bid.
More than 300 U.S. ensembles representing a wide array of musical genres applied for the American Music Abroad live auditions. Gozion and Chatham Baroque are among only 40 finalists chosen for the live auditions. At the end of the live audition round, 10 ensembles and two alternate ensembles will be selected for a month-long international tour with the American Music Abroad program, which sends American roots music groups of diverse genres to more than 40 countries to present concerts, performances with local musicians, workshops and other projects to engage diverse audiences.
Despite the stylistic differences between classical and folk music, dance remains the common link between Gozion’s primary musical passions. As a music student at The University of North Carolina Greensboro, Gozion first discovered her affinity for folk through dance.
“I found out about it through dancing when I was in my 20s and that’s how I got into playing for folk dance,” Gozion said. “For me, [folk and classical music] serve different purposes in a way. The folk is very social…music doesn’t stand alone, it always accompanies an event…and classical music tends to be a more inward, personal experience for the audience. It’s powerful in a different way,”
At the American Music Abroad live audition round in New York City, Gozion and Chatham Baroque will perform some of their own musical repertoire and will also be challenged to arrange a new variation combining folk tunes from Turkey, China and Russia. Gozion will also lead a folk dance lesson as an example of a community engagement program to offer abroad.
“I am excited that we were chosen…“I think it would be really exciting to travel,” Gozion said. “We’re trying to preserve this folk tradition in a modern era.”
Today was selections day. I was obviously excited last night, but after taking a hot bath and watching some Pride and Prejudice with my mom I slept wonderfully! In the morning I felt ready to perform my variations for the jury! Since I didn’t have to be at the theater until lunchtime, I got to have a nice breakfast with my mom and spent the morning stretching and listening to music.
When we got to the theater, I did my make up and pinned on my gorgeous tiara while the 15-16 year old candidates performed their variations. The atmosphere was definitely very exciting today, with cameramen and nervous parents everywhere, and dancers rushing around left and right in costumes and makeup.
After the younger candidates finished performing, we had a short warm-up class onstage, just enough to make us warm and supple but not intense enough to tire us out. Then I put on my pointe shoes and practiced bits of my variation on the rake until the stage manager told us that we had to leave the stage. Feeling warm and ready, I put on my beautiful tutu (Thank you Janet Campbell and all the PBT seamstresses!) and waited backstage! We performed in numerical order, but the boys and the girls alternated with each variation, so I was set to be thirteenth. Finally, my turn came! My variation went well and I had a wonderful time onstage. It was an honor to dance in such a beautiful venue and an experience I will never forget! And the rake turned out to be a blessing in disguise: I actually found my variation to be easier on a slanted surface!
Next I changed for my contemporary variation. I had a long break so I listened to my music and marked the choreography, making sure to go over all the changes from our rehearsal with the choreographer yesterday. Then my turn came to go onstage. Once again, the variation went well! I felt free in the choreography and enjoyed getting into the movement.
Overall I was very happy with my performance. We had the rest of the afternoon off, so I rested in my hotel for a while and visited a chocolatier to buy souvenirs. Then we headed back to the theater for the results!
As most of you already know, I did not make the finals. Only two girls from my class made the finals, and the male candidates dominated: 14 boys were chosen! I would be lying if I said I was not disappointed. But despite the results, I had a wonderful time dancing in the selections and I am so thankful for the amazing experience I have had this week! Tomorrow I have one last class for the networking forum in which directors from schools all over the world will observe us and pick out candidates that they like. Then I get to watch the finals and enjoy the rest of my time in Switzerland!
Today I was also interviewed for a videoblog, which should be out by tomorrow. It will give you a closer look at my day!
(Attached is a picture posted by the Prix. I am on the top left. From the performance today!)
At age 17, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School student Elenora Morris can count herself among only six females in the United States – and 84 dancers from around the world – who will compete in Switzerland’s 41st Annual Prix de Lausanne international ballet competition from Jan. 27, to Feb. 3, this year.
Founded in 1973 to discover, promote and support the world’s finest young talents, the Prix de Lausanne is an international competition and educational workshop for young pre-professional dancers, ages 15 to 18, of all nationalities. From a total of 250 dancers who auditioned by video, Morris is among only 84 candidates and 43 females, representing 20 countries, selected to participate in the competition in Lausanne.
“I feel really honored, because it’s such a prestigious competition. It’s an amazing opportunity,” said Elenora, a PBT School Pre-Professional student who has trained exclusively with PBT School since beginning her dance education at age 8.
In addition to her full-time training with PBT School, Elenora has spent the last two months working with PBT faculty to hone two performance pieces for the competition: Don Quixote’s classical Queen of the Dryads and the contemporary Saraband from Vasos Comunicantes.
“Elenora has grown up training with PBT School, and it is very exciting to see her hard work and dedication gain her a place among a very select group of young dancers from around the world,” said PBT School Director Marjorie Grundvig. “We are extremely proud to have her represent Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School to the international ballet community.”
Morris will be the third female PBT School student to compete in the exclusive competition in the last two years, following PBT School Pre-Professional students Aviana Adams and former student Anwen David, who competed in the 2012 Prix de Lausanne.
“I have strong relationships with the teachers. I feel very supported,” Morris said of her training with PBT School. “All the performance opportunities we get here, it gets you comfortable onstage. We get a wide range (of repertoire)…I feel very well-rounded and comfortable performing lots of styles.”
Throughout the five-day selection process in Lausanne, Morris will participate in classical and contemporary ballet classes with leading dance professionals, and receive coaching from Goyo Montero, the choreographer of her contemporary performance piece. Finally, the candidates will perform their classical and contemporary variations for the Prix’s nine-member judging panel. At the close of the selection period, a select number of candidates will receive invitations to compete in the finals on Feb. 3.
“(The Jury’s feedback) will be really helpful to hear what I need to work on and what strengths I have,” Morris said. “I think what I learn will be very useful for my ballet career…more knowledge of myself as a dancer and knowledge of the ballet world. I think it will be amazing to be around so many accomplished dancers and amazing teachers. I think I’ll learn more about technique, artistry, and what the entire ballet world looks like.”
Accompanying Elenora on the trip are her mother, Karen, and PBT School faculty member Pollyana Ribeiro. In addition to trying some Swiss chocolate and yogurt, Elenora and her mother plan to bring along the six-volume BBC Pride and Prejudice series to unwind in the evenings after a full day of dance.
“I’ve been practicing for months. I know it’s in my body…I just have to trust myself and have fun with it.”
About the Prix de Lausanne
Through scholarships, exposure to the world’s leading dance personalities, schools and companies, the Prix de Lausanne was created to discover the best young talents in the world and open the doors of the most prestigious dance schools and companies to help them realize their potential and become high-level professional dancers. The Prix has launched the careers of some of ballet’s leading performers, such as Carlos Acosta, Julie Kent, Darcey Bussell and Christopher Wheeldon. For more information, please visit www.prixdelausanne.org.
About Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School is the official training institution of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and has an enrollment of more than 900 students, including the Children’s, Student, Pre-Professional and Open Divisions. The Children’s Division gives young students an introduction to ballet and prepares them for advancement to the Student Division. Dancers in the Student Division work to refine their technique and dancers in the Pre- Professional Program prepare for professional ballet careers. Many students perform in an annual School Spring Performance at the Byham Theater, and some students are chosen by Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr to perform with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre at the Benedum Center.
PBT dancer Corey Bourbonniere thinks he would have converted from tap to ballet training long before age 14 if he’d experienced a program like PBT’s “In Step” education series as a child.
While enrolled in the PBT School Graduate Program, Corey served as a dancer demonstrator for the program, which introduces students of all ages to the art of ballet through a series of performance-based instructional programs.
“You’re able to learn what your interests are when you’re exposed to things at such a young age,” he said. “I just think it’s great for kids to learn dancing at such an early age, just like they learn art and music.”
With PBT’s 2012-2013 Season premiering in October, the start of a new school year also kicks off a new season of opportunities for PBT and local schools and educators to bring classroom curriculum “In Step” with PBT.
Although each level of the series incorporates a costumed dancer, on-your-feet instruction and ballet basics, the programs can be adapted to a range of ages, classroom needs and curriculum connections.
While participating in an “In Step” program at Stanwood Elementary, for example, Corey demonstrated barre and centre work to a classroom of students and worked with small groups to combine ballet movements in a creative exercise.
“It was really fun to be able to work with them. You could just see their faces lighting up to be working with dancers,” Corey said. “Just like any other art form, you have to share it. The kids are the next generation. It keeps the art going and it keeps it alive.”
For educators, the “In Step” program taps into students’ energy and curiosity to blend learning about pointe shoes, choreography and training with on-your-feet activities. From ballet-related stories to creative movement and basic ballet positions, the “In Step” series offers programs for Pre-K through Grade 12.
“Students were attentive, because the information and dancing were in perfect balance with each other. Observing the various poses and movement that were demonstrated by the dancers helped students to be more confident when it was their turn to try the movements. This program was informative, interactive, and most importantly, fun!” said Kathy Vollrath of Hempfield Area School District.
The “In Step” series includes Ballet FUNdamentals (PreK-2), In Step (Grades 3-12), Preschool Discover Dance (Ages 3-5) and Discover Dance (all ages), a partnership with Gateway to the Arts. For more information, or to reserve a program for your classroom, contact PBT Director of Education and Community Engagement Kathryn Gigler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While an incoming class of 43 graduate program dancers begin a new PBT School year, this September finds a trio of recent alumni rehearsing for their main stage debut as PBT’s newest company dancers. With PBT’s 2012-2013 Season premiere approaching, PBT dancers Casey Taylor, Corey Bourbonniere and JoAnna Schmidt reflect on their recent transition from student to professional.
Path to PBT
As a Pittsburgh native and Fox Chapel Area High School graduate, the reputation of PBT School made it a natural fit for Casey to take her ballet training to the next level. “I grew up here,” she said, adding that she definitely feels a lot of hometown pride as a member of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.
Originally from Rhode Island, Corey first experienced PBT School through the Intensive Summer Program, where he was inspired by the company dancers and acclaimed faculty members. “It was the best class I had ever taken,” he said of his ISP audition with PBT. “The challenge (of ballet) for me is something I love.”
Like Corey, JoAnna came to PBT from out of state following an inspirational encounter with PBT Ballet Mistress Marianna Tcherkassky at the World Ballet Competition job fair in her home state of Florida. There, JoAnna received the affirmation she needed to pursue ballet training over college. “She really helped me believe in myself and believe that I had a shot at doing this,” she said
Preparing for Professionalism
Since enrolling in PBT School, the three students built the strength, skill and experience necessary to bridge from student to professional.
“Coming up through the school from the beginning, I had a huge range of teachers,” Casey said. “It was a very well-rounded experience for me to get different backgrounds of technique.”
For JoAnna, the professionalism of the program and the opportunities it provided to interact with the company dancers distinguished her PBT School experience. “I gained so much strength and stamina in the graduate program. I think that was definitely a huge preparation for me.”
As a PBT School student, Corey danced alongside the company in nine season productions, including Uncommon at the August Wilson Center. “I had a big breakthrough when I got to perform (Mark Morris’) Maelstrom. It almost felt like an audition to me,” he said, adding that the live music and intimate venue created one of his most memorable onstage experiences.
From Student to Professional
Although this season marks their first as full company members, it won’t be the first time the three have performed alongside the company. This time, however, it will be different. For the three dancers, it’s the fruition of a dream that was many years in the making.
“I was just in awe of all of (the company dancers), and now I get to be one of them,” Casey said.
“As soon as I started I knew that I wanted to take it professionally,” said Corey of starting ballet training at age 14.
JoAnna experienced a similar sensation since starting ballet class at age 7. “I never had any other career in mind even from the start. I always wanted to be a ballet dancer,” she said.