Area Youth Build Confidence Through Dance

By Anne Weinberg

We all want our kids to go out into the world with confidence. We cheer them on at soccer games, sit patiently through recitals, and serve as practice audiences for classroom presentations. They, in turn, learn to hit the field running, quell nerves, and focus under pressure.

One local organization, the Central Ohio Youth Ballet, is turning confidence-building into an art form. COYB provides performance opportunities for young dancers. Twenty different dance academies participate in COYB performances such the highly anticipated “The Nutcracker” at the Midland Theater over Thanksgiving weekend. Additional outreach performances take place at libraries, malls, senior centers, and more. Just this month, COYB performed “Bravo!,” a celebration of music and dance in collaboration with the Newark-Granville Youth Symphony. In addition to a Midland Theater performance, “Bravo!” took to the road with a special performance at Kendal in Granville, funded by the Granville Community Foundation.

COYB’s Artistic Director, Robert Cole, stages ballets for young casts of dancers, drawing on his background as a dancer with the renowned National Ballet of Canada. Co-Founder Lisa Cole, applies her extensive ballet and modern dance training to a vision for concert level work that blends seamlessly with Robert’s. Together, Robert and Lisa have given countless young dancers the experience of professional level performances.

Of course, there is far more to a COYB performance than meets the eyes of appreciative audience members. Strong mentorship and strong community define the months and countless hours of rehearsal leading up to each performance.

One dancer describes Robert as “a role model, a teacher; he finds a way to relate to the students, and he makes everything fun.” She goes on to say that Robert took the time to meet with her and her mom for an hour to talk about her readiness to go “en pointe,” (complete with an anatomy lesson on the foot!). He then joined her and several other dancers and their parents for hours of shopping for the perfect first pointe shoes.

Parents note with appreciation that Robert is supportive and demanding in equal measure. He insists that young dancers learn to put their hair in “ballet buns” without parental assistance and that older dancers sew their own pointe shoes (an arduous and exacting process that often takes several tries and lots of pin pricks with a uncooperative needle!). This self-reliance translates into self-confidence in rehearsals and on stage.

Lisa Cole’s approach further instills confidence in young dancers. She describes the COYB approach as learning to “move boldly through space with every movement whether that be ballet or modern dance.” Deceptively simple moves such as a “pique into arabesque” involve risk, a potential loss of balance. That risk is magnified on stage in front of a live audience. Lisa adds that “move  boldly’ becomes what you do when you step into a leap. When you train that way, it becomes an overriding quality, in rehearsal, on stage, and hopefully in life.”

A strong sense of community supports dancers, boosting their self-confidence with a “we’re all in this together” feeling. Mentors Bob and Lisa Cole, experienced Rehearsal Assistants Brittany Gagne and Vanessa Tharp, and choreographers such as Kathleen Burt, whose recent piece “Bed of Roses” was performed during “Bravo!”, all encourage and help dancers work through challenges. Parents contribute volunteer hours (over 1,000 hours total for the Nutcracker alone). Students see parents chaperoning, stitching costumes, and hauling stage sets. Just as importantly, dancers support each other. Performance night backstage is an impressive study in synchronized costume changes and makeup assists between dancers.

I had the chance to meet with one young COYB performer, Caitlin Federer. Already an accomplished dancer at age 15, Caitlin has studied with Robert Cole since the age of 3. On stage, she is a study in poise and strength. Her performance as the Sugar Plum Fairy in COYB’s Nutcracker earned a standing ovation. But to talk to Caitlin off-stage is to be reminded that she is a teenager, a freshman at Granville High School. She recounts with a laugh how she almost threw in the towel at age 3 because she hated wearing ballet tights. Today, she’s unsure if she will continue with dance beyond high school. For now, she’s juggling classes and extracurriculars just like any other high school student. But, of course, she’s not just any high school student. She has learned to “move boldly” on stage, and through the world.

In addition to COYB, Bob and Lisa also run The Ballet Academy which is the local affiliate of COYB that offers a plethora of weekly classes, giving area kids the opportunity to study with these amazing dance teachers, and others, on a weekly basis. To learn more, visit balletnewark.com

Photo credit: Sara Devere. Shown left to right: Samantha Short and Grace McCutcheon in "Stories" (choreography by Lisa Cole), one of several pieces performed in COYB's "Bravo!" at the Midland Theater.