There’s always been something magical about ballerinas. Degas loved them; every mother of every daughter loves them; even movie producers love them (think The Red Shoes; Black Swan).
Those of us who are simply transported by their graceful stage presence, their ability to almost float to the music, their mesmerizing partnership with other classical dance colleagues sometimes wonder if this is an art form for a former generation. Will today’s kids’ and their kids, with their video games, hip hop music, endless sports involvement, want to dance that kind of dance?
If the current younger New Orleans generation is any indication, the answer is yes. Because if you love to dance; you have to dance.
Irina Vassileni-Uralsky knows that. The quintessential ballerina — slim, straight as a reed, hair pulled back – she is the picture-perfect Russian dancer. In New Orleans as a guest instructor at the summer program of Loyola University’s Preparatory Ballet Program, she’s sharing her knowledge with a new generation. For the past few weeks she has been giving classes in the highly structured Russian techniques of classical ballet to advanced-level students ages 13 and up.
A graduate of the world-famous Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow and former dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet, Irina is on her third visit to the Crescent City, a city she has come to love. An admirer of all styles of American dance, from modern to hip hop, she nevertheless frets that too many of today’s young dance students are not exposed to the demanding classical ballet techniques she sees as the foundation to all dance.
So it is ironic that New Orleans, perhaps more famous for its music and literary heritage than dance, is continuing the tradition of teaching classical ballet in ways that are actually diminishing in her native country.
“It is very painful to see that,” she says. “There they are losing classes for classical ballet and now they do not value them as much.”
While Irina’s residency concludes on Friday, other dance programs are available at Loyola University throughout the rest of the year. For more information about Loyola’s Preparatory Dance Program, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 504-865-3627.
Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie.