Dance studio teaches more than just ballet

By Karina Martinez-Carter

The Daily Northwestern

Seven girls, ages three to four, tried to imitate their dance teacher’s movements as they bent down to pick up cloth flowers scattered on the dance floor.

“Now we’re ready to skip to grandmother’s house,” said their 26-year-old teacher, Wendy Park.

And with that, the seven girls dressed in white eyelet dresses with cherry-red capes covering their leotards and light pink tights pattered around the dance studio clutching balsa wood baskets.

The girls were re-enacting “Little Red Riding Hood” through ballet as part of Park’s Thursday class, A Fairytale Ballet.

The classes, which take place on the second floor of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 2120 Lincoln St., combine dance lessons with children’s tales. During each class, the teacher reads the children a brief story, and then they dress as characters in the story. The teacher then leads them in acting out the story, incorporating ballet positions, steps and moves.

Each dance lesson builds upon itself so the stories don’t repeat for about a year and a half – until the girls are at a higher level and would have a more advanced dance lesson, said Alaina Murray, the Chicago area director of A Fairytale Ballet. Children ages two to eight participate in the program. In Park’s three-to-four-year-old class, she focused on maintaining class discipline, teaching body parts and shapes and distinguishing right from left.

“The instruction is really age-appropriate and brings ballet down to the child’s level,” Murray said. “There is so much that could be over their head, but it really speaks to what their interests are – all these little girls are so interested in being princesses and playing dress-up.”

Although A Fairytale Ballet is more expensive than most other dance studios for children, Murray said parents are willing to pay extra because of the uniqueness of the program.

Evanston resident Hallie Rehwaldt, a former dancer, was watching her 5-year-old daughter through the window and smiling, waiting for her to finish class. She said while the classes appeal to the children’s whimsical imaginations, the fairy tale aspect doesn’t detract from the dance lessons.

“They don’t use a lot of Disney themes – it’s very seldom they do,” she said. “They never have Disney music, either. The teacher will have Swan Lake or real classical music playing in the background, and it’s fantastic. It’s really good for the younger kids because the teacher takes it seriously, but it’s still fun.”

Park is the only teacher at the Evanston location, which has 112 girls enrolled, and teaches twice a week. The Evanston location was the first permanent site for A Fairytale Ballet when it was created eight years ago, Murray said.

Since then, the owner has expanded the company from the basements of churches in the Chicago area to a studio with almost 400 students in Chicago as well as a corporate headquarters and two studios in Kansas, Murray said.

Evanston resident Kim Rowe said her four-and-a-half year old daughter, who is in the same class as Rehwaldt’s daughter, often continues practicing what she learns in Park’s 45-minute class at home.

“My daughter grew up seeing everyone else go to class, and she couldn’t wait,” Rowe said. “I see her practicing, dancing around the house and using some of the dance terms, and if I try to do something, she corrects me. Or, we have to play Ms. Wendy at home and pretend I’m Ms. Wendy and she’s the ballerina.”

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