Local dance studio teaches life lessons through ballet instruction

An intermediate ballet class warms up at Santa Clarita Ballet Academy on March 20, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

For a quarter of a century, the Santa Clarita Ballet Academy  has offered a comprehensive dance program, with an emphasis in classical ballet instruction, to children, teens and adults across the Santa Clarita Valley.

Situated along what the studio fondly calls “Ballerina Boulevard” in Saugus, students learn proper positions and techniques while exploring their own creativity and gaining valuable life skills.

“I consider my school a high-level arts education in dance program,” Santa Clarita Ballet Academy’s Executive Director Corinne Glover said.  “The other part of the school, that I feel so proud of and am so happy about, is that we created this environment where children can grow up in a respectful, disciplined, wonderful environment.”

The teachers at the academy are Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) trained and follow the educational program’s curriculum and standards to develop their students’ physical, emotional and social goals and progress their muscle memory and personal confidence.

A ballet class of four- and five-year-olds practices a routine at the Santa Clarita Ballet Academy on March 20, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

“I am a big advocate of RAD training.  It’s the primary teaching identity all over the world,” Glover said.  “In RAD there is no wiggle room.  You have to know everything, it’s the whole gamut, you have to know it all.  It keeps you honest.”

And the training makes a difference.

The academy consistently sends students to summer ballet intensives and the prestigious Sola Seal, Youth American Grand Prix (YAPG) and Genee International competitions.

Students have also gone on to participate in collegiate dance programs at the University of North Carolina, the University of Utah, the University of Southern California and the University of California at Berkley.

But before the program turned into the success it is today, it began as just a dream more than 25 years ago.

History of the Academy

Glover, who was part of a long tradition of RAD-trained dancers, knew she always wanted to open her own studio based in the ballet instruction and curriculum.

She taught throughout Northern California and Southern California before discovering Santa Clarita in 1989 when she helped a colleague open up a dance school called “Ballet Petite.”

When the studio failed three years later, Glover was at a crossroads: did she launch her vision where she lived in Los Angeles or in the growing area of Santa Clarita?

She opted for the latter and founded the academy in 1992.

“I thought, ‘Let’s give this a go out here,’” she said.  “There was nothing out here that had the same ballet training.”

Glover said from the beginning the studio “boomed” and she credits a lot of its success to the RAD-certified teachers who joined her shortly after its opening.

One of the first to join in 1994 was current Artistic Director Carol Guidry, who was a soloist at the Minnesota Dance Theatre and spent the eight years prior teaching and dancing in Germany.

“As I was transitioning out of a performing career, the Santa Clarita Ballet was growing and becoming more elaborate,” Guidry said.  “It was the right place, the right time.  I think we’re a good compliment for each other… it was a pretty seamless transition.”

Now the academy is led by nine faculty members in an 8,500-square-foot building.

A ballet class of the 7 to 8 year old age group practices at the Santa Clarita Ballet Academy on March 20, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

The five studios hold 71 weekly classes for 260 academy students and 38 company members while preparing the academy’s annual “Nutcracker” performance and spring productions of ballets like “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Alice in Wonderland.”

The Santa Clarita Ballet includes the Tiny Tot Ballet program for children ages 3 to 7, the Academy for RAD instruction and the non-profit Company which trains students for the para-professional world of dance and presents performances to the community at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center (PAC).

“Usually the students come through the ranks at my studio and they don’t audition for the Company until they have completed the first level professional exam in the RAD curriculum,” Glover said.  “It is their reward… They’re dedicated kids.”

The non-profit portion of the Santa Clarita Ballet is funded through donations and grants, and provides performances to the community and to students through its outreach program.

“We bring affordable ballet theater to the community and provide high-level training to our dancers,” Glover said.

RAD Instruction

Glover and Guidry, as well parents and students believe the RAD standards, instruction and examinations at the Santa Clarita Ballet train the dancers to be well-rounded performers and prepare them for the professional world.

“The RAD training is incredibly comprehensive.  I remember when I was a dancer myself, people would say that ‘I’m so well-rounded,’” Guidry said.  “Because of the annual exams as you progress, you can’t let one area slide, you have to always be bringing up the standard in all of these areas.”

Glover said the RAD standards provide continuity in the academy’s training from one class to another.

“It’s really good training and I think my technique has improved a lot from coming here,” said West Ranch High School sophomore Mia Lachman, an advanced company member who has been a part of the academy for more than 10 years.  “RAD makes our technique a lot stronger.”

Both Celine Kiner, a student at the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, and Danielle Lieberman, a student at the UNC School of dance, said the RAD training laid the foundation for their skills as dancers, strengthened their technical knowledge and bolstered their work ethic.

“Especially in transition to college, I felt like my ballet base was so strong,” Kiner said.  “RAD really teaches you strong alignment and technique, and I really felt like I had a handle on the terminology from my experience taking RAD exams.”

Lieberman said the training also made her more precise in her movements and prepared her for her collegiate instruction.

“When the opportunity came for me to learn different styles, it was easy to morph into the new work because my base was RAD which set me up with clean alignment and technique that I could adjust slightly to fit whatever I needed to perform,” she said.

A ballet class of four- and five-year-olds warms up at the start of class at the Santa Clarita Ballet Academy on March 20, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Marissa Dunne, who has three daughters in the program, said the RAD program has allowed her children to grow gradually at each level of instruction.

“The fact that they follow a curriculum for their training makes a huge deal,” Dunne said.  “My kids have really benefitted from that structure.”

The sentiment is the same of Hilary Darling, a California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) faculty member who has two daughters in the academy.

She said the established curriculum is essential to give the dancers learning objectives, discipline and feedback.

“There is this very thoughtful and deliberate development of their creative discipline,” Darling said.  “One thing that’s very important is that the stages of development are aligned with the child’s physiological development…it’s a holistic view of the child creative process as well as their well-being as a human being.”

Impact of the Academy on Students, Parents

Those involved with the Santa Clarita Ballet Academy said it is more than just a dance studio; it is also a second home and a second family.

“I dance at USC now, but SCB will always be my first home,” Kiner said.  “I think of Danica Primo as my second mom, almost, like my dance mom… She’s so incredibly patient and was way more involved in my training than she had to be.”

For Dunne, the Santa Clarita Ballet has been a home for her and her three daughters for 13 years.

“It’s been a family for us being at that studio,” she said.  “We really feel that everybody is very committed to the kids and it’s been a great environment.”

Santa Clarita Ballet Company dancers form left, Raydel Caceres, The Cavalier, Hart High School senior, Lauren Hart – Sugar Plum Fairy, West Ranch High School sophomore Mia Lachman as Marie and Luis Martinez as the Nutcracker perform The Nutcracker Ballet on stage at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center in Valencia for 650 local fourth-grade students on Wednesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Darling is grateful that she stumbled across the Santa Clarita Ballet after purchasing tickets for one of the ballet’s “Nutcracker” performances.

“I had no idea that nine years later that I would still be at it and being such an invested part in the organization,” said Darling, who has dedicated time and effort to volunteering for the ballet and writing grants for its non-profit Company.  “I’m grateful that my kids have this in their life and they’re so much better off because of it… The sense of community that the ballet gives to our family is very important.”

Kiner remembers when she was a senior in high school and had to take an examination in San Francisco.  Both Guidry and Glover drove six hours up and down the coast with her so she could rehearse in a studio before her exam.

“It really made me realize how involved in my life they had been since I started dancing there at age 8,” Kiner said.  “I love coming home and seeing the younger dancers growing up.  They’re part of my family too and they remind me so much of my younger self.”

An intermediate ballet class warms up at Santa Clarita Ballet Academy on March 20, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Many students, present and past, credit the Santa Clarita Ballet for their experience on stage and their inspiration for pursue dancing professionally.

“It’s given me discipline and given me a sense of how to prepare for a professional career in dancing,” said West Ranch High School senior Lauren Hart, an Advanced Company Member who is attending the University of Utah’s School of Dance in the fall.  “It’s given me a lot of opportunities for dancing and built a lot of great relationships.”

Lieberman said the program gave her the impression of being in a professional company, because of the caliber of its productions, and helped her develop her own artistic expression.

“My strongest link is my ability to perform and project emotion and I was really thankful that my teachers embraced this and wanted to focus on that quality as well as the technicality of the dance,” she said.

For Glover, the ability to train students throughout the years and develop a safe place for their artistic growth has been nothing short of extraordinary.

“You have these groups of children going through the ranks and you become so attached to them,” Glover said.  “They come back and visit all the time, it’s very rewarding.”

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