The Hip Bone Connects to the...

Connecting the hip bone to the knee bone: adults learn dance

This article originally appeared in Opus Osm, the free-of-charge, paperless daily magazine about Czech classical music, opera, and ballet, published in Prague for an international audience.

If you're an adult who wants to dance, where can you go for lessons?

Sure, it's pretty easy to find salsa or belly-dancing lessons in Prague. Or ballroom dancing. But what about contemporary or classical ballet training? If you haven't been dancing since childhood at ballet school, isn't it too late to start as an adult?

Nope. Not according to Laterna Magika's (Magic Lantern's) Milan Odstrčil and 420People's Nataša Novotná. This fall the two innovators are continuing the ballet as well as modern dance lessons they first started as a trial last January. The Nová Scéna Taneční Studio (New Stage Dance Studio) classes are designed for students who come "just for the joy of movement," she says.

And since the experiment was so successful, Mrs. Novotná tells Opus Osm, the weekday evening lessons this fall will culminate in an "open class" -- an informal show -- in the foyer of the New Stage in December.

"Anyone can sign up for a single class or for a full course," explains Mrs. Novotná. "We have people who come once a month, others who come twice a week." Take Mikuláš, for example. The art history student came to ballet classes last year but not regularly. "This year I hope to come more often," he tells Opus Osm, as about a dozen students begin stretching and bending to warm up.

"I love dance and I also do admire Nataša's work with 420People," he explains, referring to the professional dance group. He describes their teacher as easy-going and able to "work with the material [the students] she has at hand. She doesn't need a whip." And there's no competition to outstretch or out-leap the other students, he says.

The 75-minute lessons at 5:30 pm start with about 40 minutes of warm-up, strengthening, and balance exercises. The rest of the lesson is devoted to learning short "phrases" of choreography, putting movements together with music in a short dance.

Mrs. Novotná explains that the aim of the classes is to open up dance to a more general public, not to professional dancers. Lenka, an aspiring actress, convinced her friend Ivana, an editor and journalist, to come to the classes after both women moved to Prague from Brno. "I have a small baby, Noe," Ivana explains, "and I want to return to condition."

Meanwhile, Kristina is slowly lowering to the floor in the splits [provaz] and bending her chin forward down to the linoleum. The recent graduate of Prague's Dance Conservatory is an exception to Mrs. Novotná's observation that professionally trained dancers aren't interested in further lessons.

"Training professionals in such classes is difficult in the Czech Republic," the award-winning teacher-dancer says. "Most aren't interested in continuing education because they don't have time -- they’re too busy dancing, making a living."

But Kristina says she enjoys taking the extra class because Mrs. Novotná is a good teacher. The young dancer's ambition is to join a ballet company and travel the world. "I want to go to the Netherlands, Barcelona..." she says, her eyes lighting up and her voice trailing off as she imagines a life on international stages.

The New Stage Dance Studio's students have ranged in age from as young as nine all the way to 50-something. "Our Wednesday ballet and classical training is full of ladies," Mrs. Novotná says. "They want movement, but for various reasons may not feel comfortable going to a gym or doing yoga." An extra attraction: "In our classes they can move with music."

Personnel from 420People, Magic Lantern, the New Stage, and the National Theatre plan to cooperate in an interesting way, starting every Friday in October, with young actors from the National Theatre providing acting lessons to go along with the dance.

In the future, those artists may combine with computer technology and the dramatic visual arts that Magic Lantern is known for. That would take movement with music into a different "place" --beyond the traditional salsa, belly-dance, or ballroom moves.

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