Christopher Hird Redesigns Adult Ballet at Sarasota Ballet School
Floridian adult ballet dancers have had a reason to celebrate since Christopher Hird became Director of Education at The Sarasota Ballet in July 2016. His focus and experience led him to design a new adult ballet program that is both exceptional & progressive. Christopher generously shared his experience and viewpoint on adult ballet today in an interview with Ballet For Adults.
Can you tell us more about your adult ballet program, and do you plan to have more workshops like this in the future?
Christopher: I wanted to develop an adult program that would be accessible to all ages and abilities and suitable for the audiences in the Sarasota area. Nowadays it’s really valuable to have a continuing education program for adults and so I am developing a progressive course of study with various levels from complete beginners through to intermediate and beyond.
Adults are very busy with their lives, children, and families, so I thought a weekend workshop would make it easier for people to commit to. Also, I knew from my experience at Boston Ballet that it is enticing to arrange a programÂ around a company production so they get to see the company perform, as well as being able to meet some of the company dancers. If it is successful, I will certainly want to do it again, and I would love to get more people to attend.
I think if you are training as an adult and you are starting later in life, you may have missed out on doing something, such as a summer course, as a child. That’s why, when I am teaching an adult course, I always try to include repertoire and variations. This allows them to get a real experience as an adult dancer.
Have you seen growth in adult ballet, and do you feel that it is a growing demographic?
Christopher: Oh, absolutely. Many adults dance for different reasons – they’ve always wanted to, or they didn’t get a chance as a child, or they want to come back to it. I think some places view adults as they’re not very important, or it’s never going to happen for them, but actually, adults can gain something from it, and can learn to improve. If you start ballet class at the age of 50, let’s say, there’s no reason why you can’t start in an introductory class and work your way up a few levels.
It is important that when you are teaching adults, that you are teaching things safely, because you are dealing with bodies that have already been formed. Certain adults can do some things, and some can’t. I feel like the most important thing is that you want them to experience the joy of dance, and realize that it’s a different way of exercising. It’s really hard, but it’s really satisfying when you can achieve something.
What is your advice for someone who is coming back to ballet, or someone who is nervous to try, but wants to?
Christopher: I always say to just do it! Don’t be intimidated, especially if the adult program is connected to a major school or company. I think people assume that if a ballet company has a big name you have to be really good to go there, but that is not the case.
I would also encourage adult dancers to check out the background of the teachers they are going to, so that you are getting good training. You want to be learning with someone who has experience.
Do you have any adult dancers en pointe?
Christopher: If dancers are already en pointe, they are welcome to take class in their shoes. I go back and forth myself on whether to offer pointe as a separate class. I do see a value to it, however, certain feet, especially when you are older, just do not have the mobility. I also know that many adults feel that it is their dream to be en pointe, and they see that as integral to ballet.
I think if it is taught in the right way, and carefully, and if students are correctly fitted with shoes that are right for their feet, it is possible. Yet I also feel that I would like the ability to tell a student that unfortunately, their feet just are not made for pointe work, so that they can understand that they could possibly hurt themselves.
How can artistic performance play a role in adult dance education?
Christopher: I try to teach adults in the same way that I teach professional students, which is exposure to the entire art form, not just the technique. I like to develop the artistry carefully, so the dancer feels like they are using the artistic side of their personality. This might not even be drawn out yet, but at least the dancer can experience what it feels like to dance, and to be in space and move.
If you educate through using artistry when you are teaching, it informs them when they get to see a production. They might recognize the same movement they do in class, but appreciate the artistry a particular dancer might bring to that movement. The artistry and technique go hand in hand; otherwise it’s just like a gym class, doing rote movements.
This is an art form, and it is a way of expressing ourselves, which is either to an imaginary audience when you are in class, or in a performance with an actual audience. I like to have an informal performance at the end of my adult workshops, just with family and friends, because otherwise a performance opportunity is not really offered to the adult ballet dancer.
Do you have a favorite ballet?
Christopher: That’s a good question. My favorite classical ballet is La Bayadére. Romantic ballet is Giselle. Balanchine ballet is Theme and Variations and Ashton Ballet La Fille mal gardée. I have to put them into categories because I have lots of favorites!
Sarasota Ballet is offering a modern ballet class by Elizabeth Bergmann. Will she be using a particular technique, such as Martha Graham?
Christopher: With the adult ballet group, she isn’t going with a particular technique, but will start by just having people move, and getting them to move in a different way. Ms. Bergmann was the Director of Dance at Harvard University. One of the early students she trained was Madonna. Madonna wanted to be a dancer, and wanted to join the Martha Graham company. She trained with Bergmann in Michigan. Sometimes when you see video of Madonna as a very young dancer, she is dancing a piece that was choreographed by Elizabeth Bergmann.
What do you enjoy most about the Sarasota area?
Christopher: Sarasota is a very cultured city. As well as the ballet, there is an excellent Opera company, professional orchestra, and we have visiting companies all the time. Twyla Tharp was here last week. Alvin Ailey and Paul Taylor are also performing along with the big Broadway shows.
Thank you again to Christopher Hird for taking the time to speak with us. We learned a lot, and now have some great tips to pass on to our adult ballet audience.
To support one another as a growing group of dancers, please spread the word and attend Christopher Hird’s
NEW ADULT BALLET PROGRAMS AT SARASOTA BALLET SCHOOL
INTRO TO BALLET
Thursday 9 March 2017 at 6pm
This 5 week course for adults is for those who have always wanted to learn the basics of ballet. No experience necessary.
THE SARASOTA BALLET ADULT OPEN CLASSES
Classes are held Monday through Saturday beginning at 10am.
There several levels of technique to choose from and a new modern class beginning on Tuesday, March 7, 2017
ADULT BALLET WEEKEND WORKSHOP
MARCH 10-12, 2017
The 3 day workshop will include classes in technique, variations and repertoire, culminating in an informal presentation. Workshop includes lunch, meeting artists of the company and a ticket to an evening’s performance.
Â To register, please contact Tina Taylor at: 941-225-6520 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Class Location – Studio 20, 10 N. Lemon Avenue
For more information please visit https://www.sarasotaballet.org/adult-program
Christopher Hird is the Director of Education at The Sarasota Ballet, and the Principal of the Margaret Barbieri Conservatory. Previously, Hird held the position of Artistic Manager and Head of Adult Programming at Boston Ballet School. He served as the main teacher for students in the pre-professional and classical programs. He also led the redesign of the company’s adult programming. You can read more about his experience as a dancer and as a teacher on the website at SarasotaBallet.org