Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mirror Image

The landmark that caught my attention on this day's journey was the "Praise the Lord Church" on US 30. I was hoping to find more information about it on the Internet, but try typing "Praise the Lord" and "church" into Google and you'll see that the results are not very specific.

The route from Fort Wayne to Valparaiso, even considering the time change, was shorter than our Mapquest estimate. We had some time to sit in the parking lot next to a wall of long grass waving in the wind like ocean waves. My greatest moment communing with nature came, rather ironically, in an Indiana parking lot. Touring is like that.

The Mirror Image Dance Studio, as you can see, is spacious. Valery spent some time before class admiring a well-equipped play area in the corner for the young ones. He also admired the progress the students have made since we visited this school a year ago.

Thank you again to Deanna Gallardo for inviting us.

Man In The Mirror - Michael Jackson

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Garrett, Indiana

"'Pooh promise you won't forget about me, ever. Not even when I'm a hundred.'
Pooh thought a little.
'How old shall I be then?'

Pooh nodded.
'I promise,' he said." -A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

There is nothing better than spending time with old friends. That is how we feel about the Patricia Krus School of Dance in Garrett, Indiana- "Home of the Railroaders." When we step into the studio there is a warm familiarity to it.

The students are hard-working, which is important with two marathon three-hour classes over the course of two days. We've been focusing on positions and jumps and if you want to know more, visit the Patricia Krus web page which already has pictures up!

Thank you to Alicia Smith, PK's new owner/director for inviting us.

While we're on the subject of Indiana. Indiana has a number of colorful place names. Mt. Healthy in Bartholomew County, Home Place in Hamilton County, Bullocktown in Warrick County (named for a Mr. Bullock), Fickle (named for a Mr. Fickle), Nulltown (for a Mr. Null), Onward in Cass County, Popcorn in Lawrence County, Retreat in Jackson County, Smartsburg in Montgomery County, Solitude in Posey County and Spraytown (named for a Mr. Spray) in Jackson County.

But this is my favorite Indiana Place name story: In Ripley County is a village called Correct. When the first post office was established there in 1881, the post master, William Will, decided to name it Comet after Halley's Comet which was passing by at the time. The problem was that Will had rather poor penmanship. The Post Office Department sent his application back so Will could verify the name. He wrote "correct," and that became the name of the town.

This information came from the book Indiana Place Names by Roland L Baker and Marvin Carmony.

Up In Indiana [Acoustic] - Lyle Lovett & His Large Band

Monday, July 28, 2008

Celina, Ohio

There is an amazing sight on IN-67 somewhere between Muncie and the Ohio border in farm country. After miles of driving between walls of swaying corn punctuated by the occasional tractor and rare farm house, you pass a small sign noting that a "historical church" is up ahead, and then an incongruously magnificent church rises out of nowhere, its gothic spire pointing heavenward. There it stands without a house in sight, a church that must have been built by a loving, invisible community.

The Upstage Downtown dance studio in Celina, Ohio is a lot like that church. Celina (pronounced with a long i) on the Western border of the state is a small town with a large lake and an annual lake festival. Its primary landmark is its red brick city hall, which has been there for more than a century. It's a town of farmers and manufacturers. The town's visitor's guide provides a list of cross tipped churches to appreciate. It is far from the hustle and bustle of Times Square. And from out of this town rises the Upstage Downtown Dance Studio. Run by Tanya Flutterjohn for the past six years, it is unasumingly located above a Dollar General on Main Street. The small brick-walled studio has a comfortable floor covered in grey marley. It's students have talent, great energy and an enthusiasm for learning. We are pleased to have discovered this studio, and hope to return in the future.

Tomorrow we return to Garrett, Indiana for two extended classes with our old friends at the Patricia Krus School of Dance.

Oh What a Beautiful Morning - Unknown

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Three Cs in Illinois

Did you know that more than 92 million acres of corn were planted in the U.S. in 2007? (Fact courtesy the King Corn web site) I think we found them. They're in Illinois.

I have to admit that when we got to the Carterville to Collinsville to Charleston portion of our itinerary, I had a little trouble keeping track of where we were going and where we had been. All those "C" names in one state were a bit confusing. So let me clear it up.

On July 24 we visited the Arabesque School of Dance in Carterville, IL. The studio itself appears to be a former drug store or small grocery with walls a deep purple. The class was evenly divided between younger and older students-- four little ones and four more advanced, so Valery-- shown here explaining how proper carriage of the arms helps with balance-- did separate combinations for each half of the class at the bar and in the center.

Collinsville, Illinois is in the greater St. Louis area. We could see the skyline and its famous arch as we pulled into town. Collinsville is also home to the very welcoming Sherry's School of Dance.

The weather in Illinois on July 25 was much cooler than we'd experienced during our time in Alabama and Kentucky. After two weeks of 95+ temperatures, a 71 degree morning was a great relief.

Sherry's School has a lushly feminine decorating scheme with yellow walls and flowers on the ledge over the door. In the corner is a display case filled with ballet figurines and tchotchkes.

It was another small class, about five students.

Each introduced herself to Valery Lantratov by name before class began.

After our class at Sherry's we drove to Charleston, Illinois-- the second Charleston of our tour. (Charleston, Illinois is the flat one)

The route from Collinsville to Charleston took us through miles and miles of corn unspoiled by any signs of civilization.

Our journey began on roads bearing markers for the Lincoln Heritage Trail. Illinois is, of course, the Land of Lincoln. Indiana next door is simply the Birthplace of Lincoln. But if there are sights of historic importance on this route, we missed them. We saw corn and more corn. There might have been a soybean somewhere.

The one landmark that broke up the endless view of farms was a giant cross that appears to be made out of aluminum siding.

The Effingham Cross is one of the few landmarks that actually lives up to the often heard line "you can't miss it."

It stands 198 feet tall; the height of a 20-story building. It is made of 180 tons of steel and can withstand winds of 145 miles per hour. It was built at a cost of more than $1 million.

The Cross Foundation, which was responsible for the giant expression of faith says, "This site is intended to serve as a beacon of hope to the 50,000 travelers estimated to pass the site each day."

The idea of giant religious monuments is that their sheer size produces a sense of awe-- the realization that we are small in the face of the grandeur of nature and time. This was the inspiration behind the great European cathedrals with their mighty spires and endless stained glass windows. In a nation shaped by the value of rugged individualism, we have very few opportunities to feel this sense of smallness and oneness with our culture or society.

"Many landscapes were beautiful," wrote Alain deBotton in Art of Travel, "meadows in spring, soft valleys, oak trees, banks of flowers (daisies especially) but they were not sublime... A landscape could arouse the sublime only when it suggested power-- a power greater than that of humans, and threatening to them. Sublime places embodied a defiance to man's will...Sublime places repeat in grand terms a lesson that ordinary life typically introduces viciously: that the universe is mightier than we are, that we are frail and temporary and have no alternative but to accept limitations on our will; that we must bow to necessities greater than ourselves."

Yet it was hard for me to imagine anyone having a transcendent experience gazing at roadside cross made of the same material as a garage door, even though comments on the cross's web page claim that they have. It is, to my mind, like comparing Leonardo DaVinci's "Last Supper" to a well designed marketing billboard.

My recommendation for giant cross fans is the Cross in the Woods in Northern Michigan, which places its monument in a secluded wooded setting where its carved presence seems fairly organic and inviting of contemplation.

The cross behind us, we pulled into Charleston, Illinois for a class at one of our new favorite studios, The Jacqueline Bennett Dance Center.

"The dance center provides many performing opportunities, which are vital to the dancer's overall development," Bennett told the Daily Eastern News. "Performing teaches responsibility, provides an environment that requires group unity and effort for a common objective, instills confidence and rewards the performer with a sense of accomplishment."

To us she said, "There is ballet on the prarie!" and there is a very inviting and welcoming studio as well. Valery was impressed by the student's openness, focus and willingness to learn. We met some great people, and hope to come back again.

C Is For Cookie - Sesame Street - Cookie Monster

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mayfield, Kentucky

Along the Western Kentucky Parkway I spotted a sign for the "Everly Brothers Memorial".... Aren't the Everly Brothers still alive??

One of the friendliest and most welcoming studios we encountered was in Mayfield, Kentucky. In fact, it started before we even entered the studio doors.

We ran into Sue Ann of Sue Ann's Dance Studio in the Big Lots. I went to get a hand basket and I came back and Valery was talking to a bunch of people, which is fairly unusual. She was in the store, it turns out, to get craft supplies to make a big welcoming sign for the guest artist.

The first of two classes was the livlier, there was a local reporter on hand to capture the moment as the little ones laughed and giggled through the gymnastics portion of their class, which features jumps and stretches and moving like animals and trains. There was an audience of parents as well.

Tiny Dancer - Elton John

Monday, July 21, 2008

Bowling Green, Kentucky

Most of the areas where we've traveled since leaving Tampa have had little population. We drive for miles without seeing a house or a store.

Then you come to Bowling Green, Kentucky and it is like the whole place was rolled and coated in strip mall dust. I have to admit to being a little disappointed in the city of Bowling Green. Growing up in Bowling Green, Ohio I had always heard that our town was named after Bowling Green, Kentucky, some founder was nostaglic for his home town.

I always had a romantic image of the original Bowling Green with horses grazing on rolling hills covered in Kentucky blue grass. (I don't really know what blue grass looks like, I just know they have it)

I suppose it is still true that Bowling Green, Ohio resembles Bowling Green, Kentucky in the sense that every American city is starting to resemble every other one.

We were not at all disappointed, however, with Dance Arts of Bowling Green. In fact, we loved this studio. The students in all three levels were attentive, focused and in good spirits. We had a lot of fun, and hope the students did too.

We hope to have the opportunity to work with these students again, and maybe we'll have a chance to explore the more scenic side of Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Another Suitcase In Another Hall - Andrew Lloyd Webber

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Another later addition to our itinerary was Lorie and Becca's on Market Street in Fayetteville, Tennessee. The studio stands above a bridal shop across from the town hall next to a barbershop with a red and white pole, Honey's Restaurant and Billiards ("Try Honey's Hamburger Steak") and Bill's Cafe home of "fresh slawburgers."

Many of the students in both class levels have adopted the studio's pink and neon green color scheme in their dance bags and attire.

Thank you to Lorie and Becca's for being able to accomodate us on short notice.

Tennessee (2001 Digital Remaster) - Arrested Development

Saturday, July 19, 2008


July 18 and 19 we had a rare weekend free in Huntsville, Alabama. We didn't travel to the Space Museum. Instead we enjoyed the hospitality of our budget hotel.

Here is the wording of a sign that appears in the laundry room:

"When washer and dryer is in use, please remove anything that does not belong to you. There will be consequences for any of this action."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Gadsden, Alabama

The Cultural Arts Center in Gadsden, Alabama, home of the Downtown Dance Conservatory has a relaxing yoga, new age feel made richer by the scent of high quality coffee being brewed near the box office.

The studio, with its avacado walls, is decorated with fairy lights twisted in hanging vines. While most studios have flourescent strip mall lights, the Downtown Dance Conservatory is reminiscent of a Renaissance Festival or a scene from Midsummer Night's Dream.

About seven of the studio's advanced students came out for the class. In a slightly more temperate season, an outdoor courtyard might make a peaceful location for a class. We hope to return here in the future.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Prattville, Alabama

"This is old America style," said Valery Lantratov of the drive along 231 North from Ozark to Prattville, Alabama. For miles and miles we wound through farms and fields without any interruption.

Then suddenly at Troy, Alabama we found civilization. It was like a giant truck filled with commerce overturned strewing Wal Marts, Lowes and Taco Bells across the landscape.

By this point in the tour, we were experiencing a bit of exhaustion, but after a stay at a comfortale hotel and anticipating two days off in a row, we both seemed to bounce back in time for two classes in Prattville at the Center for Performing Arts.

Prattvile (nickname "The Fountain City") is not far from Montgomery, crossing the border between Autauga and Elmore counties. The studio, which features paintings of dancers in different genres on its dark blue walls, is proud of its marley covered sprung wood floors.

This picture is from the first (younger) class of the day.

We were told that the mercury topped 101 F (38.3 C) the day of this class, and indeed we spent our drive to the next city listening to wobbly Russian music on a warped partially-melted cassette.

Angel From Montgomery - Susan Tedeschi

Romeo and Juliet

The latest word from Moscow is that the Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet is advertising its new Romeo and Juliet production with video clips from its past production featuring Valery Lantratov as Tybalt. We've been looking on line to see if any clips or photos show up, but we haven't come across them yet. If you find any, please let s know!

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Sun So Hot I Froze to Death

July 14 marked our first day in a new state for us:
Alabama, "the Heart of Dixie."

Alabama takes its name from the river that flows through it, which in turn takes its name from a Choctaw tribal name which may come from alibamo meaning "We stay here."

I like this as a name because it is so brilliantly circular. "Were are we?" "The place where we are." It's kind of a zen, hippie point of view in a Timothy Leary, Ram Dass kind of way.

Of course, the sad irony that the Choctaw are, in fact, not here any more has not been lost on me.

As a Northerner, my main association with the state of Alabama is the song "Oh Susannah" with its line "I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee." (Which is actually a song about going to Louisiana.)

Daphne, Alabama did not live up to any banjo-style stereotypes of the deep south. It was, however, as hot as I remembered Albama being on my childhood visit to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville. On that visit, almost 20 years ago, the car got so hot that my casette player literally melted. For some reason, this memory did not deter me from scheduling a return to the state in the month of July.

The name Daphne dates back to 1874. My superficial research did not reveal who the original Daphne was, but I think we can rule out Daphne from the Scooby Doo cartoon at least.

The first time on our tour that we saw an attractive body of water on a sunny day (albeit from a distance) was in Daphne. (I did not have my camera with me)

Seventeen students and teachers were on hand for Valery Lantratov's class at the Eastern Shore Dance Academy in Daphne, Alabama. The teacher's were very welcoming, and Valery was given a program from a performance of the Bolshoi Ballet with many of his friends in it. It was a great way to begin our stay in a new state, and it is a city we look forward to returning to in the future.

Oh Susannah - Lisa Loeb and Elizabeth Mitchell

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Sunshine State Grows Cloudy

On Feburary 13 we had our first day off in some time, and we were looking forward to spending it on a Florida beach. Our journey would be both of our first across the Florida Panhandle. We would stop for the night in Pensacola, which I knew primarily from the dream sequences in the movie Contact, before heading to the lovely Gulf Coast town of Daphne, Alabama.

What we hadn't prepared for was how unpopulated the Panhandle is. As we rounded the corner from Tampa towards Alabama, the palm trees began to disappear. The closer we got to Pensacola, the more the terrain matched the swampy environs of other Gulf costal regions.

Apparently Florida more than once in its history has tried to sell the Panhandle to Alabama, with which it has much more in common than with the peninsula of Florida. According to the always reliable and trustworthy Wikipedia, Alabama's leaders rejected the offer calling the land "a sand bank and gopher region."

Along Route 10 (also known as the Christopher Columbus Highway) there were few land marks, few stopping points and not much scenery. And it was incredibly flat. Forida has the lowest highpoint among the fifty states. Lower that Louisiana, high point 535 feet, even Delaware whose highest point is only 448 feet above sea level. Florida's highest point is Britton Hill near the Alabama border in Walton County, elevation 345 feet.

Most of the population along the route seems to be stationed in military bases-- something that would become a theme of our time in the South. Military bases in Florida and Albama, much to Valery's surprise, make no secret of their location. They are easy to see and observe. (The image above is from the Elgin Airforce Base's Web page-- of course they have a web page.)

Our hopes of relaxing on a beach with drinks with little umbrellas in them were dashed completely when a dramatic, pounding rain descended upon us. It was a bit like driving under Niagara Falls. The blowing wind made our swaying journey across the three-mile Pensacola Bay Bridge a different kind of adventure.

We entered Florida on the lucky 7th and exited on the unlucky 13th, a fairly complete circle in the Sunshine State. The change to the Central Time Zone is a plus, we've completed about 50 classes, just about the half way point, and the extra hour of sleep will do us good.

"People dream of a life like this," Valery said. "Traveling, seeing all America, meeting people..."

Saturday, July 12, 2008

On Broadway

Some of the best classes we've had in our years of touring have been put together on very short notice. Such was the case with Sell's Broadway Dance in New Port Richie near Tampa, Florida.

July 12 was originally slated to be a day off and a day of travel. To make up for some of the earlier cancellations we contacted studios in the Tampa area and Voila! Two great classes on three days notice!

We were tremendously impressed with how many students arrived for two hastily arranged classes on July 12. You can see for yourself. The studio has put up its own slide show.

On Broadway - George Benson

Friday, July 11, 2008

Studio 19

"I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one's being, a satisfaction of spirit."-Martha Graham

From July 8-11 we worked with the students at Studio 19 School of Dance in Eustis, Florida.

Brigadere General Abraham Eustis who served in Florida during the Sminole War and was one of the officers who favored ending the war by allowing the Native Americans to remain within a small territory to be given to them in the southern part of the state.

The town of Eustis was named either for Abraham, or for his son Henry, a Civil War soldier. (You remember learning about the Seminole Wars in school, right? The Second Seminole War, often referred to as the Seminole War, lasted longer than any war involving the United States between the American Revolution and the Vietnam War.)

Anyway, that's enough for history. Our Eustis visit included classes in technique, pointe, partnering, variation and corrections-- Maria Errico and students showed us some of the pieces they have been working on, and Valery offered his pointers. It was an extremely full four days, and we hope, highly productive.

Intensives give us the opportunity to go beyond "show and tell" to really build on each day's class and this is our favorite way to teach.

Thanks to Juanita Wilson, we were reunited with our trusty Olympus camera and are able to bring you this photograph. Hope it was worth the wait!

The variation for the female students was from Corsaire and the male student worked solo on the Don Quixote variation. Variations are the "Greatest Hits" of ballet. In a culture that tends to emphasize the new and novel, it has sometimes been a hard sell to explain the appeal of ballet's "moldy oldies."

No one goes to Swan Lake for its novelty. You go to see something you've seen before, to see different people executing the same scene. In this sense it is ritual. In the same way we pass through experiences like a wedding. The bridal gown would be nothing but a white dress if it didn't carry with it the weight of all those brides of the past, of the grandmothers, long gone who were once young and in love and beginning a life with a partner. You don't wear the dress because it makes you unique, but because it makes you the same-- it ties you to all the others. What is unique is not the event, but the individual who is executing or experiencing the event. It is your moment to carry the bright torch of life.

Paradoxically, it is only by comparison to the great dancers of the past who have executed these variations, that a dancer's true nature shines most fully. The familiarity of the material emphasizes her differences, the uniqueness of her interpretation and animating spirit.

The variation that is thrilling and exciting when seen for the first time gains depth and richness as the audience sees it performed by new and unique dancers.

It was a pleasure to bring a new generation to these pieces and to have the opportunity to show them Valery Lantratov's performance of the male Corsaire variation on DVD. Teaching is all about passing the torch.

Monday, July 7, 2008

First Day in Florida

Ah, Florida. There is something refreshingly exotic about its palm trees, even in the summer season when its temperatures are on par with northern cities.

The Polly B Dance Academy is located in Atlantic Beach, Florida, which one can safely assume is on the Atlantic coast. We didn't see the beach, but I take it on faith that it is there.

Polly B has recently moved studios, and we spent part of our trip navigating from the old studio address to the new one while being given the turn by turn on the cell phone. "You turn away from the beach," was one direction. Being from somewhere else entirely, I didn't know which way was "to" and which "away" from the biggest landmark in the area- the ocean.

We managed to find the place in the end, a colorful studio with doors of orange, green, blue, and yellow set against walls of turquoise and bright yellow. The most notable thing in the studio was a giant cardboard cake, the kind people jump out of at bachelor parties.

"Feel free to intimidate them," said Polly, but intimidation is not really Valery Lantratov's style.

After two classes and two levels at Polly B, we headed to a third class at "A Class Apart" in Deltona. (One of Deltona's claims to fame is that it is the home of Twiggy the Water-Walking Squirrel.)

At first we weren't entirely sure we were at the right place. We found ourselves navigating down a narrow road untilit dead ended at a warehouse.

"We have no more road," Valery observed uneasily, but in fact we were in the right place.

A Class Apart is located in a gymnastic studio in an industrial warehouse. It's not a promising looking place, but inside the gymnastic studio is spacious and growing. They have plans to take over an area upstairs. The students were very quick learners. "Smart," Valery deemed them, which is high praise. And after class they showed off some nifty tricks on the uneven parallel bars. That doesn't happen at every studio.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

V. V. Lantratov

For us it is a travel day-- but an exciting one.

Valery's son, Vladislav Lantratov, dances his first principal role with the Bolshoi Ballet this evening in of Ratmansky's version of Vainonen/Asafiev's The Flames of Paris. The link above will take you to his biography page (in Russian). The biography begins "Vladislav Lantratov comes from a dance family."

The Financial Times wrote: "...a young debutant, Vladislav Lantratov, made a promising Philippe..."

There is some brief discussion of the younger Lantratov on Ballet Talk (where they refer to him as a "young hot shot" and "mystery man" as they speculate on who this guy is) and an article (in Russian) on the production in the Russian journal Kultura.

You can see photos of the production at For Ballet Lovers Only.

And You Tube already has a number of videos about the production:

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Ch-ch-ch-Changes in Georgia

According to Allen Morris, author of Florida Place Names, there is one place name for every square mile in the United States. This fact he attributes to "place name specialists" (a job description previously unknown to me).

There are some cities that leave you to wonder, "Where did it get that name?" Stone Mountain, Georgia is not one of them. A massive rock dominates the skyline. This outstanding feature made this city one of the most memorable on our tour.

We would never have discovered Stone Mountain were it not for a number of last minute class cancellations. In the last part of July and early August, ten classes fell off our itinerary leaving us to worry about whether or not we'd cover our travel costs.

When I say "we" were worried, I mean that "I" was worried. We have a very strict division of labor. Valery worries about epaulement and combinations, I worry about covering our tour costs and getting to the next hotel.

In all, we had a record number of cancellations on short notice during this tour-- any advice on how to avoid this on future tours is welcome. I haven't figured out the secret yet.

At any rate, having to quickly fill some vacant spots on the calendar at short notice over the holiday weekend turned out to be a boon because it allowed us to come to two great studios and make some new friends; proving once again that an inauspicious beginning can be an auspicious beginning in disguise. And even with our new record for cancellations-- I believe it was 12 classes canceled on less than two week's notice at last count-- we will finish with a record number of classes. So in the end it all works out.

Our great discovery was the North East Atlanta Ballet also known as the Lilburn School of Ballet where we added two classes and enjoyed working with some highly skilled and focused students. It is a treat to be able to reinforce a class with a second day at a studio, even more so when it is added on such short notice.

Another last minute class was added at the Academy of Dance Arts in Canton, Georgia. We were thrilled at how many dedicated students both of these studios were able to attract so close to a holiday weekend. Kudos to both of you and we hope to work with you again.

We were also pleased to be able to return to Heather Wayne's Performing Arts Dance Academy as part of its summer intensive. Heather's was the first school to sign on to our summer tour and it was as lively as ever with its mix of theater and dance.

The dance world is very small, and while we were at North East Atlanta Ballet, Jennifer Gordon asked, "You're going to Warner Robins? Are you working with Georne?" She promised us talented, advanced level students, and that is exactly what we saw at the International City School of Ballet. It ranks among the studios with the most professionally focused students we've visited.