Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Day 15: Mansfield, OH

Today we trekked to the Richland Academy in the carousel district of Mansfield, Ohio. The area is so named because it surrounds an indoor carousel. I assumed that this was an historic part of the city, but it turns out that the carousel only dates back to 1991. It is, according to the Richland Carousel web page, "the first new, hand- carved carousel to be built and operated in the United States since the 1930's." (They spell carrousel with two "r"s, but I've always spelled it with one. Mirriam Webster calls "carrousel" a variant of carousel. Learn something new every day.)

The academy, billed as "your center for creativity," offers classes in theater, dance, visual arts and music. It apparently even has a bagpipe band. (Here's an idea-- ballet choreography to music by the bagpipe band.)

It has a generous, spacious studio-- perfect for a double class of technique followed by pointe. Many of the students, who I'm told take classes four days a week, finished the class, took off their pointe shoes and went right into a jazz dance class.

We had an interesting moment en route to the studio. Until I met Valery, I hadn't really appreciated how much mental preparation goes into a physical activity like ballet. Before class, Valery goes off into his own world. As he goes over the combinations in his head, he assumes a distant gaze and moves his hands slowly in the pattern of the feet.

It was a snowy, slushy day and the cars spattered road salt across the windshield. So we had to stop for some extra windshield wiper fluid. As I went in to buy the fluid, Valery stood by the open hood of the car, still mentally dancing his class combinations. A man came up to him and said, "Are you ok, sir?"

"I must have looked very strange," said Valery.

Fortunately, for the next couple of days we're visiting schools we've been to before. Valery knows the students and understands their level. It can be challenging for him to prepare for classes at new studios. What one studio defines as "intermediate" or "advanced" might be "beginning" by another studio's standards. So as much as I try to provide him with good information, we just never know until that first plie just what the class will be. It is a bit like an English teacher preparing to teach writing without knowing whether she will be teaching high school seniors or the fifth grade.

I have been impressed by Valery's ability to quickly adapt to whatever level he sees. We'll need that skill in the next couple of weeks as we head into states we've never taught in before-- West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.