Old School Is the New School in San Jose

Mark MacNamara on March 23, 2016
The New Ballet School's executive director, Dalia Rawson, works with a student. Photo: James Tensuan

Although the Silicon Valley Ballet Company— formerly Ballet San Jose — is shutting down after 30 years, the ballet school attached to it will continue, albeit with a new name: The New Ballet School.  It was relaunched at an open house, with classes, beginning on Monday, March 21 at its campus in downtown San Jose.

The old school offered year-round training for approximately 350 students in three divisions. A majority of those students are expected to enroll in the new school. “At least nobody is saying they won’t come back,” says the school’s executive director, Dalia Rawson. 

While the ballet company suffered from donor fatigue, the school has been a successful business and, according to Rawson, should succeed as a stand-alone entity. “We’re doing some fund raising, and we’re working on a more comprehensive investment strategy to insure stability and grow the school to become what it should be.”

“What differentiates the new ballet school, is that we have very high technical standards and a professional faculty that teaches the American Ballet Theater national training curriculum.   We’re all certified in the curriculum, which emphasizes training the ‘whole dancer’ — with an eye toward dancer health and child development.”

The school also includes live music with classes. “That’s an integral part of ballet training, having a pianist in the room with students helps them develop artistry and an appreciation for all of the arts.” 

In regard to dancer health, the school prides itself on being particularly supportive of the “physical, emotional, and mental health needs of students.” The school has partnered with specialists in basic areas of child development to insure that young dancers are set up to succeed — no matter whether they intend to pursue a career in dance or some other field.   

Rawson, who had been with Silicon Valley Ballet since 1991, as both dancer and teacher, notes that the school provides various strategies to deal with the pressures of rigorous professional training. “We help dancers with confidence building, professionalism training, and the kind of support needed to address issues around eating disorders and body image. We do not promote an unhealthy body image at our school.”

Rawson did her ballet training in San Francisco in the 1980s and remembers all too well: “This was an extremely prevalent problem with very little support or understanding.” 

These days, problems young dancers face are new kinds of injuries, including repetitive stress injuries connected to a lifestyle where children don’t go outside after school and play on cement or other hard surfaces.  Burnout is another issue, which has grown out of forcing children through very advanced levels of technique at a young age.   

“We don’t believe that’s right,” says Rawson. “We believe children should look like children and dance like children. They should have the time to develop technique and artistry in a progressive way, not skipping the fundamentals but not pushing too hard to appear like an adult. Ballet shouldn’t be like gymnastics and become a sport where your career is over at 18.”

As for the other benefits of ballet, Rawson added, “I really believe that serious artistic training can prepare people for real success, and that children can come out of this with a real sense of purpose — with a clarity of thought that serves them well throughout their lives — and with an appreciation of what it’s like to dedicate oneself to rigorous training over many years, no matter the field.”

Among graduates of the old school is a linguistics major at Princeton. By the same token graduates of the Silicon Valley Ballet School have gone on to various companies such as Ballet Met in Columbus Ohio; the Joffrey Ballet, Chicago; the State Street Ballet in San Diego; the Houston Ballet; the Oklahoma City Ballet; the Grand Rapids Ballet; and the Royal Ballet of New Zealand.

Classroom observation will be open to the public each evening from 5:30-8:00 pm during the week of Monday, March 21 through Friday, March 25 and again on Saturday, March 26, from 10am to 12pm.  Classes are scheduled at the same studios formerly used by the Silicon Valley Ballet, 40 N. First St, San Jose, CA, 95113.  Registration for Summer Classes, Camps, and Programs is now open. Email [email protected] for more information.