Written by The Ballet Spot’s founder Eliza S. Tollett
Though I define myself as a professional dancer, I have always loved to teach. I have been fascinated by ballet teaching principles for as long as I can remember. As a kid, “play time” in my room, was actually my chance to pretend I was the ballet teacher; and as a college student, I organized extra ballet classes for my classmates in Modern Dance who wanted a little ballet advice. As a professional dancer in NYC, I took open classes from the best teachers not just for ballet training, but also for teaching inspiration.
My first teaching job was with Ballet School of Stamford, where I was fortunate to have the opportunity to teach both children and adults. On Wednesdays, I’d go from rehearsals in the morning with Brooklyn Ballet straight to Grand Central to catch the train to Stamford, CT. In Stamford, I’d teach children for 4 hours and finish my day with an adult Beginner/Intermediate ballet class. You’d think at the end of that day I’d be drained, but after leaving my adult ballet class, I always felt energized, inspired, and happy.
As I taught this Beginner/Intermediate class, added on some adult private lessons, and explored the adult ballet scene in NYC, I became more and more aware of some of the inherent issues associated with adult ballet. First off, there are very few working adults who have time or energy for a traditional 90-minute ballet class. Second, though a leotard and tights was not “required,” I could tell that the pressure to be in a perfect ballerina outfit was just not working for many of my adult students. Additionally, Beginner Ballet is never really beginner ballet – it’s usually far too advanced for a Beginner. But real Beginner Ballet is quite slow-paced, and not much of a workout. Finally, I disliked the way my adult students would judge themselves for not being perfect or not remembering a combination; and when I took other open adult classes, I was disappointed in the overall sense of “judgment” that fills the studio.
So in August 2017, I decided that I could solve these “problems” - I set out on a mission to create a judgment-free, fast-paced ballet class, that was really accessible to and interesting for adults of all levels from absolute beginner to advanced. I wanted anyone to be able to walk in off the street and take my class. This was the beginning of Cardio Ballet. I knew that if I could just get people to try the class, I’d be able to grow The Ballet Spot and turn Cardio Ballet into a phenomenon!
In October of 2017, I officially launched The Ballet Spot. Within a few months, it was growing. For about a year, I taught 3 Cardio Ballet classes every week in a small studio on W 72 nd Street. I still remember the first day a class was booked full – a Saturday in the summer – that was a huge milestone for me.
In October of 2018, Liz Hepp, a friend from college, approached me, saying she loved
what I was doing and wondering if I could train her to teach at The Ballet Spot. Around the same time, Janna Davis came to take class and expressed her interest in teaching as well. The next thing I new, I had two trained instructors, teaching their own classes in this unique style I had developed.
The Ballet Spot was BOOMING! It was so much fun to see adults of all backgrounds and experience levels, from all over NYC joining our classes and having so much fun.
And then in January of 2019, my husband and I decided to relocate to LA. This was a very difficult decision, but probably one of the best decisions I’ve made for The Ballet Spot. I realized that if I were to just stop the NYC classes, there would have been a lot of disappointed people. So instead, I hired three talented instructors, Jennifer Hite, Arzu Salman, and Rachel Schmidt to instruct and manage the NYC location. Together, we grew the business in NYC while I lived and taught my own classes across the country in Santa Monica, California.
Leading up to March of 2020, The Ballet Spot was taking off. We opened a second location in TriBeCa, which was building momentum, and all of our 72nd Street classes were booked full. We had added 3 additional instructors, Mary Kate Hartung, Ali Block, and Robyn Jutsum. But then on March 15, NYC shut down. We launched our first Zoom Live Stream class that same day.
We were one of the first studios to launch virtual classes in response to COVID. All of the instructors depended on income from jobs that were shutting down like dominos, and I did not want to be a part of that financial suffering. So, I guaranteed each instructor the pay they had made prior to COVID shutdown.
Since March, we have increased our virtual class offerings and also increased the opportunities for dancers to work during this crazy period of time: Robyn Jutsum is now also the Marketing Manager, Ali Block is also the Operations Manager, and Deepa Liegel, who joined our team in May, is now also the Class Content Coordinator. The team has continued to grow to include professional dancers from around the country.
Prior to March 15, we had 32 classes a month in our two locations in NYC and 24 classes a month in our Santa Monica location, all primarily Cardio Ballet. Now, we offer more than 100 virtual interactive Live Stream classes, ranging from Cardio Ballet, to Total Body Barre, Stretch, Pilates Mat, Ballet Sculpt and MORE!
It has been crazy and exciting to watch The Ballet Spot grow over the past 8 months and to meet and dance with people who we never would have met before. We now have adult dancers and dance fitness enthusiasts joining us from around the country and around the world – from India, Germany, Ireland, Amsterdam, Canada, and Australia, to name just a few.
This is only the beginning and we are so happy that you are on this ballet journey with us. Let your friends and family know about our classes and help us to grow our virtual ballet-loving worldwide community!
Written by Robyn Jutsum
We’re all about keeping our community strong and positive as we slowly inch nearer to the end of what may feel like the longest year ever. And we truly have so much to look forward to throughout November! We are welcoming Christine, our newest instructor, to our team, hosting our monthly Ballet for a Cause class on November 27th, and coming up next weekend, Sips and Clips on November 15th. With so much excitement, it is fitting that this month’s theme, Jewels, is equally as thrilling!
Jewels premiered on April 13th, 1967 at the New York State Theater. Created for New York City Ballet, the ballet is a plotless three-act ballet representing three different jewels: emeralds, rubies, and diamonds. Considered the first full-length abstract ballet, each jewel’s act is set to music by different composers. Emeralds to Gabriel Fauré, Rubies to Igor Stravinsky, and Diamonds to Pyotr Tchaikovsky.
The original cast featured many iconic names from New York City Ballet:
Emeralds was performed by Violette Verdy, Mimi Paul, Sara Leland, Suki Schorer, Conrad Ludlow, Francisco Moncion, and John Prinz. Rubies was performed by Patricia McBride, Patricia Neary, and Edward Villella. Diamonds featured Suzanne Farrell and Jacques d'Amboise. It is often noted that these dancers made the ballet what it is, brought it to life, as their persons reflected the essence of each jewel.
The ballet’s initial concept was rooted in the first production of Balanchine’s Symphony in C back in 1947. At the time, the ballet was christened Le Palais de Cristal, inspired by Balanchine’s visit to the world-renowned French jewelers, Van Cleef & Arpels.
Each jewel is described as follows by the New York City Ballet:
“Emeralds moves at Fauré's mesmerizing pace, while Rubies races like lightning through Stravinsky's jazz-inflected capriccio. With its symphonic Tschaikovsky score, Diamonds venerates the regality of Balanchine’s classical heritage.”
Balanchine specifically described Emeralds as a representation of French elegance, stating that Emeralds is “an evocation of France - a France of elegance, comfort, dress, perfume” (from The George Balanchine Trust). Rubies is a classic representation of Balanchine’s collaboration with Stravinsky. Balanchine and Stravinsky had a strong artistic relationship that has resulted in some of Balanchine’s most recognized works including Agon, Apollo, and Firebird. Diamonds is considered an ode to imperial Russia and its grandiose.
The costumes were designed by NYCB’s famed costumer, Barbara Karinska. Each act is distinct not only in music and movement but also in dress. Women in Emeralds wear Romantic tutus of you guessed it, emerald green. The women of Rubies wear ruby red leotards with attached skater type skirts that flare at the hips. The style of the Rubies costumes is very common in many of Balanchine’s ballets. Diamonds is the most classical, with the woman wearing a Classical tutu and the man in white tights.
San Francisco Ballet’s blog offers an “ultimate guide” to the ballet which eloquently breaks down each jewel. I recommend exploring the ballet further with the help of this guide which you can find here.
The ballet is highly revered internationally, and many companies include it in their repertoires. In 2017, an international production of Jewels was performed at Lincoln Center in the David H. Koch Theater to celebrate 50 years of the ballet. This production brought together New York City Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, and the Paris Opera Ballet. Paris Opera Ballet’s dancers performed Emeralds, City Ballet performed Rubies, and the Bolshoi performed Diamonds. The NY Times long-time dance critic, Alaistair Macaulay wrote a full review of one of the collaborative cast’s performances which you can read here.
Balanchine repetiteur, Elyse Borne, expresses the essence of what the audience can expect from an evening experiencing Jewels. The choreographic triptych “is like a nice meal. You’ve got your appetizer, you’ve got your main course, and you’ve got your big dessert at the end, which is Diamonds.”
Join us next Sunday, November 15th at 6 pm EST for Sips and Clips, our free monthly viewing party, where we will watch clips from Jewels and discuss further its history and impact.