Drawn to dance on the UES

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Ballet Academy East selects students from around the world for their Pre-Professional training program


  • Pre-Professional dance class. Photo courtesy of Ballet Academy East

  • Kurt (right) at BAE’s 2018 Spring Performance in the piece “From A to M,” choreographed by Alan Hineline. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor

On the third floor of a Second Avenue office building, young women and men of all ages sit on the floor stretching, their legs cloaked in light pink tights or black sweatpants. A cacophony of chatter fills the hallways, serving as a stark contrast to the dance studios themselves, where the only sounds are the soft footsteps of ballet slippers.

Founded in 1979 by Julia Dubno and offering Young Dancer, Pre-Professional, and Adult divisions, Ballet Academy East has become internationally recognized as a top dance school. As a result of its stature, BAE has attracted students from all over the world, and the Pre-Professional division has implemented a program in which they select dancers from around the world to participate in their year-round training at the school.

Seven students have been chosen for the 2018-2019 season, all of whom live for free either at St. Mary’s residence, the 92nd Street Y, or BAE’s sponsored apartment on 78th Street and Second Avenue. Two of this year’s dancers are from Brazil, with the rest being from Colombia, Greece, Australia, and Canada. The students will study at BAE for the whole season, which runs from September 18th, 2018 through June 16th, 2019.

Jenna Lavin, who danced professionally for 18 years at a variety of companies, including the Miami City Ballet and the Chicago City Ballet, serves as BAE’s principal of the Pre-Professional Division, and helped to grow the school’s international program four years ago by including free housing for the dancers, most of whom are around 18 years old. Lavin felt that housing was a necessary addition to the program, given the expense of living in New York and the general challenges that accompany leaving one’s home at a relatively young age.

Lavin explained that dancers often reach out to the company in order to participate in the program, sending in video auditions in hopes that they will be one of the few selected who have the opportunity to train and grow in New York. The international students take classes with all of the other dancers, forming connections both in and out of the studio.

“It’s really wonderful to have them,” Lavin said. “It’s amazing to have the kids be aware that there’s different cultures. Ballet is really such an international language.”

Kurt, 20, who did not want to provide his last name, moved to New York from Canada last year in order to train at BAE. He lives in BAE’s sponsored apartment and dances six days per week, from 1:00 in the afternoon to 9:00 at night. In addition to having grown as a dancer at BAE, Kurt has found that he’s also grown as a person, and has developed what he hopes will be lasting friendships.

“BAE has definitely become my main source of friendship,” he said. “Especially with the guys I live with, because we’ve formed such a close bond. Honestly, we’ve become more like siblings that roommates.”

Lavin says that “our school is special, because of course we care about the kids, but we want them to be good human beings on top of being good dancers.” For international students, the emphasis on community at BAE can be comforting.

Many of those who dance at BAE go on to have professional dancing careers, while others choose to continue dancing as a hobby. Two of last year’s international students will be dancing in the Sarasota Ballet this coming season.

“That’s always our goal, is to train them to become professional dancers, but sometimes life gets in the way,” Lavin said. “Really, we’re proud of all of them.”

Lavin is continually awed by the relationships formed at BAE, both in and out of the studio. Despite the seemingly endless hours and demanding competitive nature of dance, students at BAE genuinely care for one another.

“Even though we’re very serious about what goes on in the studio, there’s a lot of love here,” said Lavin. “Yes, there’s competition, because that’s the nature of the best, but they’re friends for life.”

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