Six-year-old Elizabeth Vanadia held onto a ballet barre and teetered on her left leg. The right one wobbled behind her in the air. “Chest out,” ballet mistress Maureen Lynch instructed. “Chin up, chest out.”
The directive “chin up, chest out” could be the unofficial slogan of a new school recently opened by the Robinson Ballet Company, whose mission is to create good dancers (chin up) and confident youngsters (chest out).
Many connected to the local dance scene do not realize that Robinson Ballet has never had its own school. For the last 22 years, the company has been associated with River City Dance studio, but the two have always been separate organizations living under the same roof (the upstairs studios of the Greyhound Bus station in downtown Bangor) and sharing dance students. When Morita Tapley of Morita’s School of Dance in Hermon purchased the studio earlier this year, co-artistic directors Maureen Lynch and Keith Robinson decided to launch a school under the original company’s name. The two have also been part of the company since Keith’s uncle Ralph began teaching college-trained dancers in the 1970s in Orono.
Typically, Robinson, Lynch and their co-teachers have used the downtown studio to teach classes, store costumes, share bookkeeping and audition and rehearse area students for the annual performance of “The Nutcracker.” Now, the school is its own entity, renting space from River City and offering both student and company classes.
“From the beginning, Robinson Ballet has always been trying to get its own identity,” said Keith Robinson.
“There’s always been some confusion about the relationship between River City and Robinson Ballet,” added Lynch. “We’ve talked about ways to move forward and continue what we’re doing here. Having a school is the logical next step.”
The school, which is still in early stages of development, continues to offer ballet classes to students ages 7 to adult in the classrooms of River City, which, under its own curriculum, offers tap, hip-hop, jazz and modern dance.
Morita’s School offers a range of ballet and tap dance for ages 3 and older both in a Hermon studio and in Bangor. Under an agreement between Tapley and Robinson Ballet, River City has retained ballet and jazz classes for ages 3 to 6, except for Saturday morning creative movement, ballet and tap classes that Robinson Ballet, including longtime teacher Dale Robertson, will continue to teach to beginning students ages 3 to 6.
Otherwise, the Robinson team holds the ballet card at the Bangor studio, with classes in youth, intermediate and adult ballet, as well as pointe and partnering classes. Company classes are free to company members, and all male students are free (as an incentive to correct the dearth of boys who sign up for classes).
“River City and Robinson Ballet have always worked hand in hand,” said Tapley, who has satellite schools in Lincoln, Milo and Bucksport. “The space is wonderful for them, and it allows students to take a variety of classes and not have to go to a different location. They have a great reputation and all the dance goes hand and hand.”
Robinson and Lynch considered moving the school to a new location, but the studios at River City have a floating dance floor with a spring effect that helps minimize impact on dancers’ bodies. Classes are 30-90 minutes, and cost between $85 and $325 per session depending on the number taken per week. Single classes are $12 for adults and $10 for university students. And as with River City, students can join a class session at any time throughout the year.
At the beginning of a class last week, Robinson called out instructions to six girls and one boy at the barre: “OK, second position. Here we go. Demi plie. Grand plie. Port-de-bras front.”
At the barre was 9-year-old Maria Vanadia, Elizabeth’s big sister and a dance student of six years.
“Maureen and Keith have a wonderful philosophy,” said the girls’ mother Kathleen, who was sitting in the doorway watching the classes. “It’s about the experience and not the superficiality of costumes. There’s a great sense of family, and the doors are always open.”
Her eldest daughter wasn’t interested in sports, but Kathleen said ballet has helped with the girl’s physical awareness, confidence and overall health. This year, Maria will join the cast of “Nutcracker” for the first time.
“This is where Maria is happiest. I’m here Monday, Wednesday and Thursday,” said Kathleen, who persuaded her friend to enroll her daughter, too. “The only other activity they do is Sunday school.”
Someone’s 3-year-old brother watched from the door. Was he a dancer? He nodded no. Did he want to be a dancer? He nodded yes.
Classes are available. The sky – or as high as he can jump up to it – is the limit.
For information about Robinson Ballet Company classes, call 989-7226. For information about River City Dance, call 942-1990.
Aren’t ready for ballet classes? How about a ball? The Beaux Arts Ball, a fundraiser put on by the Robinson Ballet Company board of directors, will take place at the newly renovated, historic Society Hall Ballroom in Bangor. Built in 1892, the venue hosted the Bangor Symphony in the early 1900s, as well as many other elegant social events. The Beaux Arts Ball will be held 7 p.m.-midnight, Saturday, Oct. 14. Music is by Brian Catell and the Jump City Jazz Band, with hors d’oeuvres and desserts by Montes International Catering and a cash bar by the Muddy Rudder. WLBZ anchor Donna Gormley and Matt Friedman will emcee the evening’s festivities. Tables of 6 to 8 are available. Semi-formal attire required. The Society Hall Ballroom is located at 193 Exchange St. Tickets are $50 per person. For more information and tickets, call 866-3417.