Toronto is home to the National Ballet School of Canada: an institution that offers professional ballet training to youth, teacher training, and adult ballet classes. Their Adult Ballet program, which runs yearly from September to July, grants the opportunity to learn dance to anyone looking to either entirely begin their ballet training, or to rekindle their prior ballet experience. Located at Jarvis and Wellesley, the close proximity of the NBS to the Victoria College campus makes it perfect for any student interested in taking on extracurricular activities outside of school.
Between attending class, writing assignments, and completing readings, it’s easy to get caught up in schoolwork and begin to lose yourself. It’s important to have a creative outlet outside of class, residence, or home that is free of any sort of pressure. Students of the Adult Ballet program at the NBS are not generally seeking a career in ballet, creating an environment that excludes any of the stress or competition that may exist in a typical university course.
This past summer, I took an Intro to Ballet, which is the first level of adult classes at the NBS. I was also enrolled in summer courses at UofT, and although the workload was sufficiently lighter compared to class during fall and winter, I still looked forward to my weekly ballet class so that I could de-stress my body and mind. I also took ballet as a child, so it was nice to return to dance after so long. The instructor of the course was Bob McCollum, known as Ballet Bob in the dance community. He also founded the Adult Ballet program at the NBS in 1996, and it was a pleasure to be taught by him. In the mere nine weeks of the class, we learned the full barre, spotting, and simple jumps. All of the steps were taught at a gradual pace, making them easy to follow. Each week, we would repeat the same steps and build upon them. The curriculum was still challenging, but it was taught in a manner that was easy for any beginner dancer to understand and follow. The NBS provided a comfortable space to learn ballet and truly enjoy the process.
I spoke to my former instructor, Bob McCollum, to find out a little more about what classes at the NBS have to offer.
The Strand: When did you start dancing and where did you study?
Bob McCollum: I was nineteen years old, which, in ballet terms, is a late starter, when I started in my home city of Boston, Massachusetts. I thought studying ballet would help me move better as an actor, which was the field I was trying to enter. I was encouraged to study full-time, and my career forever changed. Most of my advanced training took place in New York City for about three years. I danced with a contemporary company there, and in 1978 got an invitation to join a small contemporary ballet company here in Toronto. The company did a lot of touring of the country, from BC to Nova Scotia. I fell in love with the country and a special someone from here.
Why did you decide to start the adult ballet program at NBS?
I was called by Mavis Staines, who is the artistic director of the NBS, in the summer of 1996 to start the Adult Ballet program, for she knew of my interest in teaching late starters like myself. We started with four classes a week and now offer thirty-four classes, including over fifty-five ballet and dance-based conditioning as well.
Are there any specific benefits that come with learning ballet?
The benefits of taking ballet are substantial. Recent studies from all over the world, one being at Princeton University, has called ballet the number one choice to enhance brain agility. The other benefits are a more improved sense of body alignment, core strength, an increase of serotonin (which is good for your state of mind), and an increased enjoyment of listening to live music, which has many benefits as well. Over the years, I have encountered a few UofT students, from freshmen to PhD candidates, who have told me that their classes here at the NBS kept them sane and often cleared the cobwebs in order to go back and complete their work.
Many people assume that they need prior dance experience to learn ballet as an adult. To whom would you recommend taking ballet?
In the adult program, we have students ranging from ages seventeen to over eighty. I firmly believe we all have an inner dancer we have forgotten to nurture. Any parent will tell you of the moment that their child [first] danced to music, which can be as early as one or two years of age. One student of an advanced age told me recently of going home for a reunion and people wondering what was different about her. She believed, through her dance classes, she had found a sense of inner grace and a better way to live in her body, which to me was the ultimate compliment for the Adult Ballet program. So, I encourage anybody to start their journey into the ballet.
What curriculum is taught to the adult students?
Here at the NBS we have developed a comprehensive curriculum for adult students which follows clear pedagogical guidelines that we use in our respected professional training program. I am pleased to say all of our teachers have their teaching certification from the three main syllabi, have studied anatomy, and are on top of all new advances in training.
What skills would someone attain from a class at the NBS?
Skills learnt could be seen as improved posture, coordination, musicality, and spatial awareness. I also believe there are far greater intangible skills such as brain agility, inner grace, and better understanding of one’s body and all its wonder.
For more information about the Adult Ballet program at the NBS, visit www.nbs-enb.ca/classes/adult-classes or contact Jennifer Mestre at firstname.lastname@example.org!