Company dancers float across the studio during rehearsals, perfecting every pirouette, turn and plié to captivate eager audiences. The costume room is a hive of activity as final preparations are made for the annual three-week run of Nashville’s Nutcracker. A palpable energy fills the air at Nashville Ballet‘s West Nashville headquarters ahead of this year’s magical display of the city’s most beloved holiday tradition. Yet, just steps away, young dancers are practicing moves, positions and poses for the first time — unaware that they may be the future of the treasured holiday performance.

Professional company dancers rehearse in the very same building as the ballet’s school students, which lends a touch of magic to the environment. “There is nothing sweeter than seeing toddlers in pink leotards peeking through the window to see the professional dancers,” says Nashville Ballet Children’s Program Coordinator Aven Weikert. “They get to see a direct connection from what they are doing in class to what the Company is doing — you cannot put a price tag on that inspiration!”

As Nashville’s Nutcracker performances near, rehearsal schedules intensify and dancers prepare for two weeks of performances.

School of Nashville Ballet’s young dancers, who take lessons in the same facility where the professional company rehearses, admire the talents of those they look up to.  Image: Tim Broekema

Nashville Ballet officially became a professional company in 1986 and premiered The Nutcracker in 1989 (the production was reimagined as Nashville’s Nutcracker in 2008 with new sets, costumes and original choreography by Artistic Director Paul Vasterling). In the decades since Nashville Ballet first became an integral part of the local community, it has grown into the largest professional ballet company in Tennessee, with a 44,000-square-foot facility that serves as a home for professional dancers and school students. Starting as young as 2 years old, young dancers can participate in School of Nashville Ballet programs.

“These young dancers grow up to be patrons of the arts, advocates and, perhaps, professional dancers themselves,” shares Aven.

Although it’s likely many of the young dancers practicing moves, positions, and poses will find themselves on stage as Clara, the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Nutcracker or Mouse King, just as many will never dance professionally. Yet still, they will walk away having experienced the joy of dance and the benefits of being exposed to the art of ballet. “Students learn discipline, patience, social skills, and develop a work ethic,” shares Aven. “Ballet provides a safe place for self-expression — something that is vital to a young person’s life. It challenges children to work towards a goal, whether that is balancing on one leg or skipping across the floor for the very first time.”

Mommy & Me classes are designed to introduce movement, music and creative play to little ones while building coordination and rhythm.

Those who wish to pursue a professional career in dance are trained in classic technique by instructors with professional dance backgrounds.

School of Nashville Ballet programs provide an opportunity to spark passion for ballet at a young age through hands-on classes. In addition to the Children’s Division, which caters to children ages 2-7, as well as children of all abilities through Adaptive Dance, the school also teaches folks of every experience level and age through the Young Men’s Scholarship Program, Academy Division, Professional Training Division and Community Division with a faculty teeming with professional dance experience. School of Nashville Ballet teaches those new to dance and those who aspire to a professional career through curriculums designed to inspire mental and physical growth.

The curriculum is intentionally designed to correlate with cognitive developmental milestones in a child’s life. “We know that a 2-year-old is still in the sensorimotor stage and, therefore, experiences his or her world through the senses. Children also learn object permanence at this stage. Because of this, we use lots of props and visual aids in our Mommy & Me classes, and their adventures are object-based — the adventures continue in our Joy of Dance (age 3) classes and Creative Movement (age 4).”

Class curriculums are designed to mirror the cognitive-developmental stages of children and advance their abilities and use of senses, imagination and intuition.

Classes advance along with students’ ages and abilities, so they remain challenged at every point in the program.

Academy Principal Kate Crews Linsley oversees the artistic aspects of School of Nashville Ballet, working with students and families to understand their growth and placement within the School. She reminds us that dance should not be intimidating for anyone, saying, “Dance has been a form of self-expression for so many people and cultures; let this be a reminder to let your guard down and try a class.”

Kate is eager to prompt folks to understand that dance can be great exercise and bring a huge amount of joy — no matter your talent level or age. She suggests joining Nashville Ballet for a DanceFix class if you are looking for enjoyment in movement, or opt for a Community Division class that caters to both youth and adults.

Male teachers lead classes that cater to boys and focus on team-building and high-energy activities.

Adult dancers of all skill levels are invited to the Community Division Adult Classes. Attend a dance workout class; beginner, intermediate or advanced ballet; or a contemporary class.

From Mommy & Me to professional performance, School of Nashville Ballet provides a solid foundation and appreciation for the art of dance.

“It is our passion to share the joy of dance with each person who comes through these doors,” Aven says.

Children’s Division and Community Youth Enrollment are currently open for Spring 2020; the semester begins January 13, 2020. Community Division Adult Classes are offered on a rolling basis throughout the year. The Academy Division and Professional Training Division are on a year-long schedule that begins each fall. For more information, visit NashvilleBallet.com.

This article is sponsored by Nashville Ballet. All photos are courtesy of Nashville Ballet.