ABINGDON, VA -- Ballet requires arduous, year-round training. Dancers at the Highlands Ballet Company (HBC) in Abingdon devote upwards of 20 hours per week after school and on weekends -- even more during rehearsals for upcoming performances -- to develop their artistry and technique in classical ballet, pointe, jazz, and contemporary forms under the instruction of Deanna Cole-Roberts, Artistic Director, and Deidre Cole, Associate Director.
"Mrs. Cole and Miss DeeDee are such gems within the artistic community of the Tri-Cities," says Jill LeRoy-Frazier, who tag-teams with her husband David Frazier to drive 110 miles roundtrip from Johnson City, Tenn., five days a week, to transport their daughter Moira to dance classes at the Highlands Center for Ballet Arts on Lee Highway, near I-81 Exit 13.
Summer vacation provides an opportunity for the most dedicated of these local dancers to pursue additional study outside their familiar surroundings, in the form of summer intensives hosted by premier ballet companies and schools across the United States. The athletic discipline and artistic vision instilled in Highlands dancers by the Cole mother-daughter duo serve them well when the dancers audition and regularly are accepted for summer intensive programs with such prestigious institutions as the Joffrey Ballet School and the School of Nashville Ballet, only two of the venues where the HBC will be represented this year.
Senior HBC members Moira Frazier, a 16-year-old rising senior at Science Hill High School; Olivia Henley, 17-year-old daughter of Lisa and Phillip Henley and rising senior at Lebanon (Va.) High School who also commutes nearly two hours roundtrip each day to attend classes at Highlands; and Shandi Honaker, 15-year-old daughter of Teresa and Greg Honaker and a rising sophomore at Abingdon High School, will participate in the summer program conducted by Joffrey, a world-renowned ballet training center with studios in Greenwich Village in New York City. Hundreds of dancers from around the country auditioned for the Joffrey program, while only about two percent of those obtained positions. The three from HBC began classes on June 14, 2009, living in a New York City dormitory, dancing up to eight hours daily through the end of their three-week session on July 4.
"I'm very excited about this opportunity," says Frazier. "I've also attended summer programs at the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts in Connecticut and the Louisville Ballet, both of which I loved and which taught me so much, and I was offered a partial scholarship to the Orlando Ballet's summer program this year, but the chance to study and live in New York is particularly exciting. We'll be right in the center of it all, and in addition to studying with amazing teachers we'll get to see several ballet and theatrical performances. We'll even get to meet some of the New York City Ballet dancers after one of the shows."
Henley concurs, adding, "Being given the opportunity to study in New York is the scariest, yet most thrilling, thing that has ever happened to me. Although it might put me out of my comfort zone, it will reward me with valuable tools and memories to last a lifetime."
Honaker notes that having the opportunity to study with a variety of teachers is an important supplement to regular instruction at Highlands. "This is a wonderful opportunity to study with different teachers and meet new people in the dance world."
Frazier agrees, recalling that "Sometimes, just having someone else give the same correction in a different way can make a huge difference. Miss DeeDee taught me repeatedly about some issues with my port de bras [carriage of the arms and upper body], but it took hearing both her and [Nutmeg's] Ms. [Joan] Kunch reinforcing how to correct my technique before it became something I didn't have to think about consciously."
Abigail Bice, another senior company member and a 17-year-old rising senior at Abingdon High who is the daughter of Laura and Ed Bice, attended the Montgomery Ballet's summer intensive from June 28 to July 18, studying ballet, modern, jazz, partnering, and classical variations while living at Auburn University. Bice previously attended Nutmeg's summer program, as well as the American Ballet Theatre's regional summer program at Wayne State University in Detroit. "I've seen the Montgomery Ballet perform several times, and I'm looking forward to studying with the company this summer," she said.
Two junior members of the HBC attended their first summer intensives this year. Alexis Johnson and Emily Yates, both of Abingdon, were among those invited to join the School of Nashville Ballet's summer program, filling two of only 48 spots available to dancers from throughout the Southeast who auditioned. E.B. Stanley Middle School students Johnson, a 12-year-old sixth grader and a daughter of Pam and Winston Johnson, and Yates, a 14-year-old eighth grader and the daughter of Libby and Anthony Yates, lived at Vanderbilt University while they studied various techniques such as pas-de-deux, pointe, contemporary, jazz and classical variations. Nashville Ballet summer students also take workshops in drama, theater production, make-up and physical therapy.
Yates says, "I feel privileged for the opportunity to step outside my bubble and have this independence." Johnson echoes this sentiment and adds, "I am both very anxious and excited. I'm looking forward to the challenge." Both dancers attended the two-week session from June 15-26.
After adding summer studies to their regular classwork at the HCBA, these young dancers put their growing knowledge to work in the HBC's numerous productions throughout the year. In 2008 they all performed in the full-length ballet "A Christmas Carol" at the Paramount Center for the Arts in Bristol. The full-length presentation of the beloved classic featured Frazier and Bice as the Ghosts of Christmas Present, Henley as Scrooge's niece, and Johnson and Yates as the Cratchit sisters.
On July 31, 2009, the girls may be seen in a mythical fantasy, "In Celtic Days," in the Virginia Ballroom at the Abingdon Senior Center as part of the Virginia Highlands Festival.
For more information about dance classes, Kindermusik, or performance opportunities, call (276) 623-0822, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://www.highlandsballet.com.