BYB Spotlight: Ballet Instructor Jen Levine

BYB adsOur next BYB Spotlight is one of our Ballet Instructors, Jen Levine.

Miss Jen teaches children in the Primary (ages 2-6) and Elementary (ages 7-10) Divisions. She has shared her enthusiasm for teaching young children ballet at BYB for over 10 years! When Miss Jen teaches, she has a special way of capturing children’s imaginations and nurturing their joy of learning ballet. At the same time, she has high expectations for her students and always instills in them a proper foundation that will carry through their ballet training as they grow.

It is a balance that requires a special skill from a teacher! Miss Jen is also BYB’s Administrative Director.

An Interview With Miss Jen:

What drew you to BYB?

Initially, I came to BYB to take an Adult Ballet class (in 2004), while I was attending the University of Kentucky for my Arts Administration degree. I had prior experience teaching and working for a ballet school in Maryland. I immediately connected with BYB’s Director and Founder, Adalhi Aranda, when I met her. Her endless energy and incredible creative and artistic talents grabbed me. I began working at her side as a volunteer, and when she found out I could also teach, she hired me as a teacher. After I graduated from UK (in 2006) she hired me to work full time as a Ballet Instructor and as the Administrative Director of BYB.

The rest is history!….so to speak. What really drew me to BYB is the unique approach to giving children a dance education. I love that there is equal emphasis placed on the well-being of our students and on their high quality training. Children are truly embraced here (not just as dancers, but as people too)! I also love how innovative BYB’s performances and teaching philosophies/methods are. BYB collaborates with other artists in the community, which enhances the overall learning experience of the students. The positive environment is so refreshing as many ballet schools tend to be harsh.

Why did you want to become a ballet teacher?

I actually never planned on being a ballet teacher. It happened by “accident”. While working an administrative job at a ballet school in Maryland, I had the opportunity to do an apprenticeship with my favorite childhood ballet teacher, who recognized certain qualities in me that she thought would make a good teacher. She spent a lot of time mentoring me and imparting the “tricks of the trade” to me. I credit her for giving me a good foundation for teaching. Though I’ll admit that it is actual teaching EXPERIENCE that I learned from the most.

Teaching ballet to children (especially young ones) is both challenging and rewarding. I am ALWAYS making teaching discoveries, and I love that. Every student is unique, and the different combinations of those students within a class presents an ever-changing dynamics that I am constantly having to adapt myself to. What works for one student or class may not work for another.

As a ballet teacher I also become a role model for students. There is so much to be learned from ballet that doesn’t have anything to do with the art form itself and has everything to do with building character. As a teacher of ballet, I play a small part in building a child’s character, and I consider that to be an important job.

Do you have a unique style of teaching?  What’s your secret to getting those little ones to pay attention and become engaged in the journey of learning ballet?

Parents and other teachers have told me that I have a gift for teaching, especially the little ones. For ages two to six, I like to tell imaginative stories and use props when I teach. Sometimes they don’t even realize they’re learning technique because they get lost in the “magic” of it all. Though I am playful with the youngest students, I also have high expectations for them. When they know that a lot is expected, they generally work harder. It is natural for young children to soak up information like a sponge, so I take advantage of that, while teaching them ballet.

I am a real stickler for keeping control in the classroom (studio). I like to instill proper ballet etiquette from a young age, and introduce children to concepts that will be essential to their dance education as they advance.

When they’re seven years old and in Level A in our Elementary Division, I use a somewhat different approach than I use with the Primary Division children. The class is more serious and structured. I use certain analogies and imagery to help them visualize some of the concepts they’re learning, but there is a lot more emphasis on their technique. This is my favorite level to teach! I basically have it down to a science now! I love to see the progress in Level A students from the beginning of the school year to the end! It is simply amazing!

You are also BYB’s Administrative Director and Adalhi has said that you’re the only one who carries all of BYB’s history.  What does that entail and what’s your favorite part of that role?

I have been at BYB since the second year of its existence. When I accepted my full-time position at BYB, I can remember Adalhi saying to me that she wanted me to feel like BYB was mine…to share in the dream of building something great! I think I have done a pretty good job with taking that statement to heart. I have completely immersed myself in my job since day 1! I think sometimes Adalhi views me as the BYB encyclopedia…because I remember everything (almost)….names, faces, events, etc. Adalhi and I share BYB’s successes and challenges, we have the pleasure of meeting so many students and their families, we watch young dancers grow and move through the ranks of BYB, we have watched some students make a career as professional ballet dancers, and we have watched other students go on to do something completely different from ballet (and either way is fine with us!), and we get to experience the joy of working with various staff members, each one bringing something different to the table. We have watched BYB grow and bloom, and we have watched BYB go through difficult times.

Some day, we’d like to write a BYB history book that will include all of our triumphs and tribulations (both as an organization and as individuals). Throughout BYB’s life there have been several times where the right person walks through our doors at just the right time to satisfy a need of BYB’s. There always seems to be an interconnectedness here at BYB, working on behalf of our students!

What’s been your best or most memorable experience at BYB?  

I can’t possibly have just one “most memorable experience”! BYB operates much like a family, and whenever there is a family that is dealing with hardship, other families will step up to help them out and to be a network of support for them (I have seen multiple instances of this). Three years ago I was diagnosed with Leukemia (not too long after I was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer) and I received a lot of support from BYB’s Board of Directors, Staff, and students. I experienced the “BYB family” firsthand, when I was sick. Not only did I receive personal support, but there were people who stepped up and volunteered to do some of the things I did at BYB as a part of my job. This lessened the hardship for the other BYB staff members. I really feel that BYB fosters a sense of “doing good things”, among those who are a part of it. After all, that’s a big part of what life is about!

BYB’s tagline, “…No Dream is Too BIG!” is the driving force behind what makes my experience at BYB most memorable. To me, the phrase represents that constant journey of moving forward, growing, and achieving bigger and better things…no matter what we’re doing. In ballet, we’re always trying to make ourselves a better dancer today than we were yesterday…we never stop learning or working and we never stop accomplishing. I carry this motto with me in my life, in my job as an administrator, and most importantly, in my role as a ballet teacher!