Building bonds, bright futures through ballet |

Building bonds, bright futures through ballet

Jeanne McGovern
The Aspen Times
Grace Romero, foreground, and other Level 4 ASFB students rehearse for the spring recital, which is tonight and Sunday at the District Theatre.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

I vividly remember the first dance recital my daughter was in. She was 3 or 4 years old and she was a sea turtle. We fretted about getting her short, baby-fine blond hair into a “ballet bun” and worried she’d lose the courage to get up on stage in front of an entire theater filled with people.

But with some words of encouragement from her teacher and the help of her “big girl” — an upper-level ballet student charged with shepherding my “little girl” through her first flitting, twirling and swirling performance — we had successfully completed our first ballet recital.

Now, 12 years — and 12 recitals — later, Hannah is an accomplished student with the School of the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. Tonight, she will be the “big girl” to another family’s “little girl.” And that’s by design.

“We found that when we started pairing students — the little ones with the older ones — there was almost a sense of ownership; these older students felt responsible for making sure these young, aspiring dancers had the most amazing, magical experience,” said Melanie Doskocil, director of the School of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, which holds classes for children ages 3 to 18 at its Aspen Business Center studio, as well as at locations in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. “And the younger students just love their ‘big girls.’

“As they grow up, they don’t always remember that girl’s name, but they all remember how beautiful she was. And the girls who stick it out all the way till the end of high school, it’s really something special — that growing up over the years of recitals, that relationship with the other dancers.”

More relationships will be built onstage this weekend, as the annual spring recital, which this year includes more than 300 students who study ballet and jazz with the School of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet year-round, takes place tonight and Sunday at the Aspen District Theatre. That both shows sold out, and quickly, is a testament to the growing popularity of this local dance school and the sport of dance in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“This is our biggest show by far,” Doskocil said, adding it’s the first year students from Glenwood are part of the ballet school. “It’s a lot to coordinate, but this is part of our core philosophy. There are only a handful of students, in general, who aspire to become professional dancers. But our commitment is to 100 percent of our students … to help them take every ballet step, plie and grand jete into the rest of their lives.”

In reality, the school’s program seeks to not just teach dancing, but important life skills such as grit, self-determination, passion and “stick-to-itiveness.”

“The most important thing for us is that our students have a positive experience, and even when things aren’t so positive — because this happens — they learn to cope and move forward,” Doskocil said. “This prepares children for experiences they might have later in life, whether they are a dancer or not.”

For my daughter, this holds true. With each year of studying dance, the demands on her body, mind and time increase. And with each year, she rises to the challenge. To be frank, it’s not easy to see your child pushed to her limit at times. However, we both know that the lessons she is learning will translate in ways far beyond the studio walls.

“Dance is like riding a bike — the pain, the determination and the passion,” Hannah wrote in an eighth-grade essay about her personal legend. “The thunder from the audience, the perfect performance, the good or bad news at the end of the year. Dance … makes me feel free to be who I am.”

To Doskocil, it is this type of learning and personal growth that makes the School of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet stand out.

“You hear all the time about how character-building opportunities like the arts and sports are being cut out of public schools’ curriculum,” she said. “I believe we really offer kids an amazing opportunity to really grow as people through dance.”

In addition, students have the unique opportunity to study in close proximity to the professional Aspen Santa Fe Ballet company. In the annual “Nutcraker” shows, students perform side-by-side with the professional dancers. Students also are lucky to have a professional dance series come to Aspen in winter and summer. And students benefit from having their teachers choreograph their own pieces in the spring recital.

“It’s exciting to have so many faculty giving their creativity to the recital,” Doskocil explains, noting the addition of four new teachers and two guest choreographers this year. “It brings a fresh perspective to the show, which is really wonderful.”

The spring recital is sold out, but enrollment for summer classes is currently open. Visit for more information.