By Eve Kucharski
Listen Up Lansing staff writer
Arguably one of the most cultured and graceful forms of athleticism is the art of ballet. It is a highly competitive field of dance, famous for both its beauty and tremendous rigors. It takes years of training to become proficient, and even then one’s longevity in a career as a dancer is not ensured.
This form of dance can be intimidating to an outsider, and many who appreciate the art resign themselves to watching masterful companies from places like St. Petersburg and New York perform, rather than try it themselves.
However, one local dance studio hopes to break down that barrier to entry by merging the Midwest, with this centuries-old tradition of grace.
The Greater Lansing Ballet Co. or GLBC, has been in Lansing since the 1990s and has worked to foster a relationship with Lansing’s residents and the arts. They have hosted dancers from companies all over the world, including the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Vaganova Ballet Academy of St. Petersburg, Russia, and the National Ballet School of Gdańsk, Poland.
In addition to its record of collaborative work, the ballet company also houses a dance school called the Greater Lansing Academy of Dance. This school focuses primarily on ballet, but teaches contemporary and modern dance as well.
GLBC co-owner and principal dancer Kailen Berry, outlined that the goals of the company and the academy are to “bring more dance and dancers to Lansing and expand the audience and audience’s views on ballet, and the influences it can have on children.”
But Berry said that the targeted audience of the GLBC can not always be reached without some difficulty; largely due to the lack of knowledge about dance and the arts in the area.
“It’s kind of tough, I think definitely the arts are growing in Lansing, but mid-Michigan kind of lacks general awareness,” said Berry. “I think it’s much better than it was even 10 years ago, I think it’s good that we’re here so we can have that influence.”
Driver for Uber, a ride-booking service, Nathan Hughes agrees with Berry. He said that as far as diversity and the arts are concerned, Lansing is lacking and he can see it by the type of person he picks up.
“I notice a lot of the people I pick up are white-collar kids,” said Hughes.
Though not originally from the Lansing area, the Howell native said he spends most of his time taxiing the residents of Lansing because of greater demand. However Hughes does not condemn Michigan fully for its support of the arts, he admits that there are places in the state that do a better job than Lansing of promoting creative outlets.
“I think there’s definitely good places [for the arts],” said Hughes. “That’s why I’d prefer to drive in Ann Arbor. I would say they are much more liberal, really diverse and accepting.”
In fact, Hughes mentioned that his sister danced competitively in Michigan for 14 years, and did not often find herself in Lansing, but traveled elsewhere for competitions.
“She was like dancing in Fowlerville,” said Hughes. “She traveled to places. She did Troy a lot, Chicago, just wherever serious competitions were.”
Lansing resident Jim McEwan is the artistic director and one of the GLBC’s principal dancers. He said that the GLBC is working to change Lansing’s perception as being unfriendly to creativity. One way he hopes to do this is by promoting the diversity present in his classes.
“We do have a pretty racially diverse group, it’s kind of one of the notable things about our studio I’m proud to say,” said McEwan. “There are a lot of different cultural backgrounds that come in. One of the big things in ballet right now is that they’re speaking to the diversity for minorities going into major ballet companies. They’re talking about it a lot, and we look at it and we’re like, ‘that’s how we dance all the time.”
It is easy to see this diversity when listening to the various cultural backgrounds that attend classes at the GLBC.
“We have Ukrainians, Armenians, and Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and various assortments of Spanish or Mexican-American students,” said McEwan. “Which creates kind of a diverse kind of casting and a diverse group of kids.”
The ballet company also creates a diverse environment in the ages of students that they teach. Though many start their dance training incredibly young, the classes offered reach all ages.
“Usually [at] like 3 or 4, parents start saying my girl is spinning around the living room and they bring them in,” said McEwan. “Some as young as 2, which I think is a little bit young. And we have lots of classes for different ages. We have an adult ballet program as well for later aged dancers, college kids, and then we have adults. Working adults and then we have retired adults.”
It is because of this breadth of students that GLBC teacher Lauren Mudry said she enjoys teaching there.
“I mean, for me I teach at multiple places because I enjoy it,” said Mudry. “But here I really like being here because, one the diversity aspect, the students that come here are very hard-working. It’s nice as a teacher to have students that are eager to learn.”
Mudry said that Lansing is not the only place taking strides to improve its art scene, she feels the whole country is moving in that direction.
“I think definitely with the hype of what we’ve been seeing on TV, said Mudry. “Dancing with the Stars,’ ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ competitions and since those have been a part of peoples’ television [viewing], it’s definitely built some appeal and therefore I think many people are starting to appreciate the art form a little bit more.”
And according to Mudry, even the company and dance academy itself is not immune to that growth.
“But I think with all that happening in social media I think it’s really started to take off a little more, and that’s actually manipulated dance forms,” said Mudry. “Contemporary [dance] that’s now a big thing, because that’s what you see a lot, and you see a lot of modern [dance] now.”
But McEwan feels that whatever type of dance one is interested in, the love of it is really what brings everyone together.
“Everyone comes for the same reason,” said McEwan. “Because they love the artistry of ballet and the athleticism. It’s an opportunity to work out, but in a pretty way.”