Lee Olsen, Artistic Director
Pacific Youth Ballet

May 5, 2006

 

Hi Everyone,

I was doing a little research on the web and came across this amusing
anecdote about my teacher, Maggie Black. I though I would share with you.

"WHEN MR. BALANCHINE TAUGHT company class, he preferred that company members
attend. In the 1970s Gelsey Kirkland rebelled by studying ballet with Maggie
Black, prompting some of the other New York City Ballet dancers to follow
suit. Black, a no-nonsense teacher whose voice combines an impenetrable
Rhode Island accent with the volume of a New England foghorn, possessed an
eagle eye for correcting placement and pushing dancers to move
organically--and she got extraordinary results from dancers of all stripes.
One particular NYCB corps girl with a noodley back, a wayward center, and
haphazard turns studied with Black for a concentrated period. When she
returned to Mr. B's class, across the floor she sped in a moving allegro
combination, executing triple pirouettes. "Black Magic," sniffed Mr. B. And
from then on, that was his nickname for the sorceress on W. 46th Street."

 

I found one more article on the basics of the Maggie Black method of ballet
technique. I could probably find more but I promise I will stop with this
one. One person often mentioned in this article is Christina Bernal, who is
my former Ballet Mistress.

Ms. Black teaches a barre based on proper alignment of the body with the
dancers' body poised directly over the hips and feet. She terms this posture
as being "up." It is hard to explain how an elite few can rise to tremendous
technical brilliance without the use of good body alignment, and how some
dancers' talent would never be realized without the help of teachers such as
Ms. Black and Ms. Bernal, but all physical therapists with any influence in
New York, arguably the dance capital of the world, have begun to use her
basic principles in their rehabilitation of injured dancers thirty years
after she began to change the way dancers take class.

In coaching the premier dancers in the world, Christina Bernal has taken
Black's technique, refined it, added her own sensibilities, worked with the
companies' physical therapists and made her own place as the teacher and
coach of stars and corps de ballet members all over the world. She is now
being invited to European summits on technique to teach teachers how to
teach and argue the merits of her instruction in front of panels of Russian
and other European traditionalists. Thankfully, Ms. Bernal and Ms. Black
have remained traditionalists in the sense of incorporating traditions of
beauty and speed (Balanchine) with what we now know about dancers' bodies
and the effects of non-instruction on adolescents and older performers who
wind up with injuries that never should have been. Could this technique lead
to longer performance life span for dancers? Absolutely! Can it effect a
profound change in a poorly trained dancer? We have seen the change in our
own studios, and helping dancers relearn technique is an important mission
at NBE, but we are also endeavoring to raise young children in this
technique from the start, teaching them about their body alignment from the
onset of their training.

Principle dancers of ABT, NYCB, Joffery, Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor and San
Francisco Ballet populated Ms. Bernal's morning class in New York for years.
Why not teach this way from the start? Why have to turn technique around
AFTER injury, after a child has already learned to dance with improper
habits which threaten her physical well being and inhibit rather than
illuminate her talent?
All the while, proper alignment of the hips is maintained and dancers are
educated as to what they are doing, corrected with hands on help from the
teacher and led to repeat exercises without lag time in between so that they
become very warm and allow the repetition to ingrain the correct placement
in their minds and bodies. When the class moves to fifth position, the
weight is distributed "50/50" between the front and back leg to keep the
body "over" the legs at all times rather than pushing back and forth the way
most dancers are prone to do. This also requires use of the inner thigh, the
area that physical therapists and orthopedics find under used and weak in
injured dancers.

At this point the dancer does not need to use the barre for support, and
finds her balances steady and consistent. Particular attention is taken with
the shape of the foot when pointed, not allowing the dancer to over pointe
and "sickle". The standing leg is held in secure turnout which does not
waver with the use of the other leg. the standing foot and ankle are stable.

Classes are two hours to allow for the longer barre. If followed by a
strenuous rehearsal (as when Ms. Bernal teaches American Ballet Theater
company class, professionals are only required to turn a bit and perform
warm up jumps before rehearsal allowing the class to fit into the one hour
and thirty minute time frame scheduled by most companies. In a classroom
situation class moves on to adagio work, turns, small jumps, medium jumps,
large jumps and turns from fifth, fouetees, piques or turns in second
depending on the level of the dancers and what they are ready for. Injured
dancers gradually build back to their performance level by adding exercises
as they get stronger. Strong dancers take the entire center on pointe.

Some children may be ready to perform more complicated choreography in
class, but class is not considered the time for this, rehearsal is. Class
time is to get the basis of technique and build it adding more rigorous
steps as the dancer is ready, this is why within one class, dancers may find
themselves in a Montessori like situation where some stay at the barre for
jumps until they are jumping properly while others move on to the center and
batterie.

Every child is Ms. Thinnes's class is taught "where they are." They are
taught as individuals, corrected as individuals and as a group when
appropriate. She learns the student's habits and ways as she is their only
teacher, and follows them in their progress, frequently giving privates when
she feels that she cannot give them enough attention in a classroom setting.
Students mentor each other, are supportive of one another and it is expected
that they be so.

Courtesy is expected in class, music is taught, French is explained and
interpreted and all students are given supplemental Pilates exercises and
stretches to enhance their ballet training. In performance, an important
setting for learning and inspiration, dancers learn and perform from the
classical repertoire as well as contemporary pieces. Modern and jazz are not
stressed in the classroom due to the limited time in the studio allowed by
children's busy academic lives and interests, but are offered as a
supplement to those who are interested. Many of the New Ballet Ensemble
dancers are top scholars and maintain their grades while dancing five days
per week. Considering this, it is difficult at best to fit in other
disciplines such as character, modern and jazz; so we choose. At present, we
are studying Flamenco twice a week in the advanced class. This summer,
Horton technique (modern in the tradition of Lester Horton and known as
Alvin Ailey's technique as well) will be intensively taught.

Performances at New Ballet Ensemble are dynamic and entertaining. Some
audience members do not even realize or feel that they have seen mostly
children under eighteen performing. One verbatim quote is "I feel like I've
been to New York, and these are children from Memphis!". Performance is the
carrot in the training. Not all students are ready to be on stage or
demonstrate the drive in their classroom work which is required in order to
perform. All are inspired to do so in an encouraging atmosphere filled with
the joy of movement through space with grace and beauty.
www.newballet.org/technique


Thanks for taking the time to read thus!

Lee Olsen, Artistic Director
Pacific Youth Ballet
PYBallet@msn.com

 

I will be holding an audition class for new students on Wednesday, May 10th,
from 6:00-8:00, at the University of Hawaii Dance Building on the Manoa
Campus.

A map is attached. Also attached is my resume. Please let me know if you
have problems opening them.

About 8 of my Advanced students, ages 12 to 15, will also attend the class.
Some of their parents will also be there and would be happy to talk to you
and answer any questions. If anyone else is interested please feel free to
pass on my email address &/or phone number.

I'm looking forward to meeting you and your children.


Lee Olsen, Artistic Director
Pacific Youth Ballet
PYBallet@msn.com

  Lee Olsen graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy and studied Ballet for eight more years with Maggie Black in New York City. Other notable Maggie Black students include Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director of American Ballet Theater, Ross Sutherland, former Artistic Director of the Australian Ballet, Lawrence Rhodes, Director of the Julliard School of Dance,  William Forsythe, Artistic Director of Ballett Frankfurt, Principal Dancers Martine Van Hamel, Gelsey Kirkland, Natalia Makarova, Eleanor D’Antuono, Ted Kivitt, Megali Messac, Charles Askegard, Julio Bocca, Susan Jaffe, Tina LeBlanc, Stephanie Saland, Rebecca Wright, Bonnie Mathis, Christina Bernal, (Ms. Olsen’s former Ballet Mistress), and others who continue Maggie’s teaching method.

 

Lee’s students, past and present, have received recognition on a national level: Constantine Allen, Third Place, Junior Division, Youth America Grand Prix 2006, Tony Anacan, currently a student at the San Francisco Ballet School, Kaimi Cambern, Finalist, Youth America Grand Prix 2006, Rochelle Chang, Finalist, Youth America Grand Prix 2006, Mark Tucker, currently a student at North Carolina School of the Arts, Brittany Hill, Finalist, Youth America Grand Prix 2006, Kristen Lum, Finalist, Youth America Grand Prix 2006, Drew Murakami, Special Recognition Award, Youth America Grand Prix 2003, Anastasia O’Harrow, Finalist, Youth America Grand Prix 2005, Alisa Suderman, currently a student at the San Francisco Ballet School, and Nicole Yoshikane, Boston Ballet II.  

 

Many prestigious schools outside Hawaii have accepted and offered scholarships to Lee’s students such as the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of Ballet (American Ballet Theater), the School of American Ballet (New York City Ballet), the Universal Ballet Academy (formerly the Kirov), the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, the American Ballet Theater Summer Intensive, the San Francisco Ballet School Summer Intensive, Pacific Northwest Ballet School Summer Intensive, the Rock School Summer Program, Walnut Hill School of the Arts, the Australian Ballet School, Briansky Saratoga Ballet, and the National Ballet School of Canada.

 

 

 
                                                                                                                             

 

 

 

Lee’s students have also benefited from visits by Guest Teachers and Private Coaching Sessions with Valentina Kozlova, former Principal Dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet, Irina Dvorovenko, Principal Dancer with American Ballet Theater, Bruce Marks, formerly Director of the Boston Ballet and currently Director of the Orlando Ballet, Soili Arvola, former principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, Alaine Haubert, Director, American Ballet Theater Summer Intensive and former Ballet Mistress for American Ballet Theater, Mark Anthony Lopez, former Principal Dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, Michael Vernon, formerly of the Royal Ballet, Garrett Anderson, Soloist with the San Francisco Ballet, Zachery Hench, Principal Dancer with the Pennsylvania Ballet, and Leslie Hench, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet.

 

Lee Olsen – (808) 398-6115 – PYBallet@msn.com

WHEN MR. BALANCHINE TAUGHT company class, he preferred that company members attend. In the 1970s Gelsey Kirkland rebelled by studying ballet with Maggie Black, prompting some of the other New York City Ballet dancers to follow suit. Black, a no-nonsense teacher whose voice combines ah impenetrable Rhode Island accent with the volume of a New England foghorn, possessed an eagle eye for correcting placement and pushing dancers to move organically--and she got extraordinary results from dancers of all stripes. One particular NYCB corps girl with a noodley back, a wayward center, and haphazard turns studied with Black for a concentrated period. When she returned to Mr. B's class, across the floor she sped in a moving allegro combination, executing triple pirouettes. "Black Magic," sniffed Mr. B. And from then on, that was his nickname for the sorceress on W. 46th Street. www.highbeam.com. Dance Magazine; 10/1/2004; Carman, Joseph.

 

The basics of the Maggie Black method of ballet technique

Ms. Black teaches a barre based on proper alignment of the body with the dancers’ body poised directly over the hips and feet. She terms this posture as being "up." It is hard to explain how an elite few can rise to tremendous technical brilliance without the use of good body alignment, and how some dancers’ talent would never be realized without the help of teachers such as Ms. Black and Ms. Bernal, but all physical therapists with any influence in New York, arguably the dance capital of the world, have begun to use her basic principles in their rehabilitation of injured dancers thirty years after she began to change the way dancers take class.

In coaching the premier dancers in the world, Christina Bernal has taken Black’s technique, refined it, added her own sensibilities, worked with the companies’ physical therapists and made her own place as the teacher and coach of stars and corps de ballet members all over the world. She is now being invited to European summits on technique to teach teachers how to teach and argue the merits of her instruction in front of panels of Russian and other European traditionalists. Thankfully, Ms. Bernal and Ms. Black have remained traditionalists in the sense of incorporating traditions of beauty and speed (Balanchine) with what we now know about dancers’ bodies and the effects of non-instruction on adolescents and older performers who wind up with injuries that never should have been. Could this technique lead to longer performance life span for dancers? Absolutely! Can it effect a profound change in a poorly trained dancer? We have seen the change in our own studios, and helping dancers relearn technique is an important mission at NBE, but we are also endeavoring to raise young children in this technique from the start, teaching them about their body alignment from the onset of their training.

Principle dancers of ABT, NYCB, Joffery, Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor and San Francisco Ballet populated Ms. Bernal's morning class in New York for years. Why not teach this way from the start? Why have to turn technique around AFTER injury, after a child has already learned to dance with improper habits which threaten her physical well being and inhibit rather than illuminate her talent?

All the while, proper alignment of the hips is maintained and dancers are educated as to what they are doing, corrected with hands on help from the teacher and led to repeat exercises without lag time in between so that they become very warm and allow the repetition to ingrain the correct placement in their minds and bodies. When the class moves to fifth position, the weight is distributed “50/50” between the front and back leg to keep the body "over" the legs at all times rather than pushing back and forth the way most dancers are prone to do. This also requires use of the inner thigh, the area that physical therapists and orthopedics find under used and weak in injured dancers.

At this point the dancer does not need to use the barre for support, and finds her balances steady and consistent. Particular attention is taken with the shape of the foot when pointed, not allowing the dancer to over pointe and “sickle”. The standing leg is held in secure turnout which does not waver with the use of the other leg. the standing foot and ankle are stable.

Classes are two hours to allow for the longer barre. If followed by a strenuous rehearsal (as when Ms. Bernal teaches American Ballet Theater company class, professionals are only required to turn a bit and perform warm up jumps before rehearsal allowing the class to fit into the one hour and thirty minute time frame scheduled by most companies. In a classroom situation class moves on to adagio work, turns, small jumps, medium jumps, large jumps and turns from fifth, fouetees, piques or turns in second depending on the level of the dancers and what they are ready for. Injured dancers gradually build back to their performance level by adding exercises as they get stronger. Strong dancers take the entire center on pointe.

Some children may be ready to perform more complicated choreography in class, but class is not considered the time for this, rehearsal is. Class time is to get the basis of technique and build it adding more rigorous steps as the dancer is ready, this is why within one class, dancers may find themselves in a Montessori like situation where some stay at the barre for jumps until they are jumping properly while others move on to the center and batterie.

Every child is Ms. Thinnes’s class is taught "where they are." They are taught as individuals, corrected as individuals and as a group when appropriate. She learns the student’s habits and ways as she is their only teacher, and follows them in their progress, frequently giving privates when she feels that she cannot give them enough attention in a classroom setting. Students mentor each other, are supportive of one another and it is expected that they be so.

Courtesy is expected in class, music is taught, French is explained and interpreted and all students are given supplemental Pilates exercises and stretches to enhance their ballet training. In performance, an important setting for learning and inspiration, dancers learn and perform from the classical repertoire as well as contemporary pieces. Modern and jazz are not stressed in the classroom due to the limited time in the studio allowed by children's busy academic lives and interests, but are offered as a supplement to those who are interested. Many of the New Ballet Ensemble dancers are top scholars and maintain their grades while dancing five days per week. Considering this, it is difficult at best to fit in other disciplines such as character, modern and jazz; so we choose. At present, we are studying Flamenco twice a week in the advanced class. This summer, Horton technique (modern in the tradition of Lester Horton and known as Alvin Ailey's technique as well) will be intensively taught.

Performances at New Ballet Ensemble are dynamic and entertaining. Some audience members do not even realize or feel that they have seen mostly children under eighteen performing. One verbatim quote is “I feel like I've been to New York, and these are children from Memphis!”. Performance is the carrot in the training. Not all students are ready to be on stage or demonstrate the drive in their classroom work which is required in order to perform. All are inspired to do so in an encouraging atmosphere filled with the joy of movement through space with grace and beauty. www.newballet.org/technique