Q&A: Ballet teacher shares love of dance with her students

Eve Whelchel is glad to have had a professional performing career. But unlike most ballerinas, she f
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Eve Whelchel is glad to have had a professional performing career. But unlike most ballerinas, she feels most at home, not on stage, but in the studio as a teacher.

She strikes that balance at Saratoga City Ballet School, a preprofessional academy for about 100 students. She co-directs the school and its affiliated company with Julie Gedalecia.

“This is a school for serious students,” said Whelchel, who has headed the school for the past five years, replacing founder Patti Henderer. “At other schools, you might learn tap or jazz. We study the art form of ballet.”

Though best known to local audiences as a modern dancer with the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company, Whelchel has been enamored of ballet since childhood.

“I remember seeing ‘The Nutcracker.’ I must have been 4 or 5. When the snow scene started, I remember turning to my mother and telling her this is what I wanted to do,” said Whelchel, who grew up in northern New Jersey.

Though her parents knew little of ballet, they enrolled her in some creative movement classes at the New Jersey School of Ballet. As her talent and interest blossomed, she attended summer intensives at Chautauqua Institute and the School of American Ballet. From there, she was accepted in the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, where she earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in dance. She then moved to the Big Apple, the hub of American dance, to go to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. There, she received a master of fine arts degree in dance.

She arrived in the Capital Region in 2001 as a member of the Sinopoli ensemble. While with Sinopoli, she met her husband, Danny Whelchel, a drummer for company classes and a member of the Brian Patneaude Quartet. The couple have a 15-month-old boy, Jordan.

Q: What is important to instill in the young dancers at your school?

A: I strive to give the students a good idea what the future will be like for them as dancers. They must be very disciplined, serious. But we are not like the old ballet teachers with a cane. We teach in a very nurturing way. Hopefully, they are having fun too.

Q: What ballet technique does the school focus on?

A: Basically Vaganova. What I love about the technique is it is very pure. It’s not stylized. When our students go see a director at an audition, they can see that the students don’t have to get rid of any bad habits. A director can see they can be trained in any style because their lines are pure. It’s simple for them to translate other styles.

Q: Can you teach musicality?

A: Yes. Simply by taking [ballet] class they will learn musicality. It becomes a habit that is instilled in the kids.

People think dancers can only count to eight. We like to give the kids a musical brain teaser, like three degages and one passé. We like to give them exercises that challenge the mind and are not in a normal straight eight counts.

Q: You also have a company affiliated with the school. How do the students manage that?

A: This is another difference in our school. A lot of schools use class time for rehearsal. Our classes are purely technique. Rehearsals are extra. Members of the company have to work hard in class and then come in extra for rehearsals.

Each year, we have a ‘Nutcracker’ and in the spring, the first weekend in May, we will perform ‘Les Sylphides’ and excerpts from ‘The Sleeping Beauty.’

Q: As a ballet dancer, what was it like working with Ellen Sinopoli?

A: It was a challenge at first. I wasn’t sure about coming up here. But I have friends who are still waitressing, waiting for their big break. I didn’t know anything about Ellen, but I learned so much from her. How to run a company, how to handle the public, the media. How to run a school. I watched how she presented herself. It was always very professional.

She also saw things at all angles. Nothing was ever one-sided. And she always kept going. She never gave up. To her, it was always important to see things through to the finish. It was a great experience.

Categories: Life and Arts

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