Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 16
Reawakening disciplineA new approach brings classical dance to center stage in an already respected Santa Ynez program
BY JOE PAYNE
A classical education in any medium has proved time and again that people benefiting from the classes can become highly skilled, disciplined, and sensitive artists.
One Santa Ynez-based youth dance program has recommitted to a more classical approach for its students, culminating in an upcoming dance recital that will feature selections of involved classical dance, as well as more modern styles.
The Santa Ynez Valley Performing Arts Company—a program under the nonprofit umbrella of the Santa Barbara Dance Alliance—is headed by dance instructor Christine Fossemalle. After 25 years of directing the program, she made the decision to up the level of instruction this year in order for her students to tackle the more difficult repertoire.
“The first classes were very basic; there was no foundation,” she said. “Over the years we had to evolve from the traditional to the more contemporary style.”
In order to include as many students as possible in the program, Fossemalle was teaching several genres, including such contemporary styles as hip hop, before giving her students a solid foundation in classical dance styles, such as ballet. While producing great programs full of fun dance styles, the process was ultimately doing a disservice to her students, she explained.
“It’s the foundation, it’s how the art was originally created,” she said, “so you get all the good basics, which you really need to move forward to the more contemporary styles.”
Fossemalle comes from France, where she studied at the Bordeaux Conservatory of Dance. She’s also director of Fossemalle Dance Studios, her teaching studio. Many of her students are in the Santa Ynez Valley Performing Arts Company, where the dancers focus on pieces for the annual “Invitation to Dance” concert.
This year’s concert ramps up the quality and technicality and includes several classical works, such as Paquita, Swan Lake, and Stravinsky’s Firebird. Her older students, some at high school graduation age, will be dancing for the more technical pieces.
“For these girls to have accomplished [Firebird], it’s like ‘wow,’” Fossemalle said, “and I think they realize, because it’s so physical and challenging, that it definitely requires work.”
Work isn’t a scary prospect to a student who’s dedicated time to become disciplined in the art of dance, and providing a challenging piece allows students to accomplish things they previously thought they were incapable of, Fossemalle explained.
“Doing ballet barre day after day, it can be monotonous,” she said, “but over the years I have so many students who say the discipline they learned from me they use throughout their life, and they are really grateful.”
And it’s not just the students. Fossemalle receives plenty of positive feedback from parents as well, parents who often sign multiple children up to her program.
“I am not trying to be big; I am just focusing on quality, and I think they really appreciate that,” she said. “Today, with all the easy ways to research on the computer, this is still the old-fashioned way, and I think parents appreciate that that is available.”
The upcoming “Invitation to Dance” isn’t solely dominated by ballet, but will also include performances of jazz, hip hop, and other contemporary styles. Even then, Fossemalle helps her students focus on a disciplined approach to the contemporary selections, which helps them be better-rounded artists, she said.
“In order to achieve the artistic part, they need to have a good foundation so that they can let go,” she said. “When they are young they do a lot of work, it’s so when they are older they can let go and really express themselves.”
Two of Fossemalle’s students are graduating high school and continuing on to dance. Kellyn Patarak, who’s transferring to Chapman University, hopes to minor in dance. Gillian Micale will be attending Santa Barbara City College before transferring as well, Fossemalle explained.
Next year, the instructor will be saying goodbye to another group of graduates, all armed with a disciplined and classically refined education in dance.
“We are a small group, but I am glad to have that understanding, that I am trying to have a quality program,” she said. “It is an attempt to try and do it better—because I am a perfectionist.”
Arts Editor Joe Payne enjoys a classical education. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.