Our next Spotlight is BYB Instructor Abbie Whitman. Miss Abbie is passionate about passing on her love of dance to the next generation! At BYB, she teaches all levels of Ballet Technique/Pointe. In addition, she teaches Character Dance and Modern for Levels A, B, and C.
Abbie enjoys fulfilling the need for high quality ballet training in Central Kentucky. She is originally from Los Angeles, where there is a multitude of choices for receiving an excellent dance education, and she would like to provide students in the Bluegrass region with the same opportunity. Abbie has taught Ballet for all ages throughout the Louisville area, and has been with BYB since 2011.
Abbie has danced professionally with Milwaukee Ballet II, La Danserie, Rockford Dance Company, Nashville Ballet, Louisville Ballet, Moving Collective, and Paradise Ballet Theatre in Key West, FL.
BYB students benefit greatly from Miss Abbie’s wealth of knowledge about the ballet world—it’s traditions, history, technique, company life, etc. She shares her experiences with students and passes on her love for the art of ballet.
Interview with Abbie Whitman:
What’s your first memory of ‘dance’? At what age did you start dancing?
I grew up in a house that was always filled with art and music. While I didn’t really have a talent for drawing or playing an instrument, I had a talent of moving. Constant non-stop movement! So, after a failed attempt at Choir, my parents were looking for something else for me to do. It happens that my mom was talking to this lady at a school meeting and she mentioned that her husband owned a ballet school and the rest was history. I started taking lessons right around my 9th birthday and I knew from the first class that this was what I wanted to do.
How long did you dance professionally?
Hmm… Let me do the math. I did my first professional show at 16 and my last at 26. So that would be 10 years!
Why do you love dance? What part in particular do you love?
I am a person who loves structure, so the discipline that ballet requires speaks to me. I loved performing but I miss taking class the most. The daily ritual of doing plies, tendus, and grand battements is comforting and relaxing. I also love that ballet is an endless challenge. There is always something that can be better, so you are never bored!
You’ve danced with several professional companies. How was that varied experience helpful to you in your career as a dancer? How has that varied experience been helpful to you as an instructor?
It taught me versatility and resilience! Each company has a different style and it’s important to be adaptable. I have danced with both contemporary and classical ballet companies, so I learned that it is important to be well rounded and open-minded. Nowadays, you not only need to be well trained in ballet, but also modern and character. Companies perform such a diverse repertoire, and you want to be ready to dance anything they throw at you. So as an Instructor, I always encourage students not to limit themselves. You can’t be a one trick pony and be successful!
I’ve heard students say that you prepare lists of Summer Intensive programs for the students and help them determine which ones might be a good fit for them to audition for a spot. What are some of the things that students need to think about during that ‘matching’ process?
The first thing I always suggest is to research the programs with their parents. It’s important to consider the location and duration of the program, what classes are offered, and the faculty that will be teaching you. Each program is looking for something different, so it’s important to get an idea for what they are looking for. One school might love you and another might not and you will have a more positive and educational experience if you go to a program that fits who you are as a dancer. If a student has professional aspirations it is also good to research their companies as sometimes a summer program can lead to a professional contract!
What’s your advice for students once they arrive at an audition? Do you have certain things that they should do? Ex.: Do you tell them to focus on a certain positive word or do you advise them to listen to music while they’re waiting? What did you used to do when you were auditioning?
It depends on the student as to what advice I give them. Some need to relax and remain calm and some need to take the time to focus and center themselves. The most important thing to remember is that the people running the audition do not know you and you need to make a good impression. Proper classroom etiquette is essential! Be on time, never hang on the barres, no talking, watch your body language, and smile! Be open and receptive to any feedback you may get. If you make a mistake, move on and keep positive! Directors are going to pick a student who shows a positive attitude over one with a negative attitude. When I auditioned I always tried to stand near the front so I could clearly see the combinations, but also so the director could see that I was eager to learn!
How do you help students who don’t get a spot where they wanted? What do you tell them?
The word “No” does not make or break you. When you get a “no” you are not a failure, it just means you’re either not ready yet or you’re not what they are looking for. The first year I auditioned for summer programs, out of 6 auditions I got accepted to one of them. The next year as I got stronger I got accepted to even more, then eventually I started to receive scholarships. So keep your eyes on the prize and keep working hard. If you want to dance there is always a place for you, you just need to get out there and find it!
How has the world of ballet and dance changed since you were dancing professionally?
It hasn’t changed too much, but I definitely see a trend towards athleticism over artistry. I hope this will change. Kicking your leg high and doing 500 turns is nice, but a true artist will be the person who is remembered.
How is BYB different from other schools? What made you want to teach at BYB?
After teaching at a couple of schools when I came to BYB it was like a breath of fresh air. The school is truly about the students and giving them the best ballet education possible. BYB students get to do three full-length productions a year, which is unheard of for any school without a professional company attached to it. BYB is also fortunate to have such a wonderful community of families! Everyone helps to make our students’ dreams a reality!
Are there dance-related goals or milestones that you’d like to achieve?
Ballet is never-ending journey and even after the performing part is over there is still more to learn. I’m always looking for ways to grow and improve as teacher so I can give the best back to the kids. I try to attend dance medicine seminars, teacher workshops, and professional performances, so I can stay current. One of my current goals is to someday go to American Ballet Theatre’s National Training program in NYC and pursue being a certified teacher in their curriculum.