“Dancing is creating a sculpture that is visible for only a moment”- Erol Ozan
The ballet school is headed by Usenko but is abetted by long-time professional ballet dancers and teachers such as former National Ballet of Canada dancer Yves Cousineau who is helping out giving professional advice at Usenko’s classes. Together, the duo works well together. The chemistry between them is palpable as they discuss future classes in the studio with its wall-to-wall mirrors and black-and-white posters portraying ballerina stars like Anna Pavlova.
Situated in the heart of Sutton, Anastasia Usenko’s ballet school is attracting parents from various parts of the Townships like Frelighsburg, Knowlton and Dunham because of the diversity of its classes and the emphasis it places upon discipline over entertainment. “We are not a daycare,” said Usenko. “This is a new ballet school that teaches all the rudiments of classical ballet dancing to children.” Case in point: Dashiele Haskin is a mother of three who does the Sutton-Dunham commute on a weekly basis. Her two daughters, aged three and six, attend ballet classes assiduously while her eight-year-old son participated in last year’s production of The Nutcracker. Haskin credits Usenko’s work with a number of accomplishments for her children. “This place schools them about discipline, the rewards of working hard and seeing tangible results. My kids did the rounds of other ballet schools and didn’t feel like they taught classical ballet,” she said. “On the flip side, my children can take ballet seriously here.”
Usenko insists upon discipline because it affects so many aspects of a student’s life. Discipline helps children understand how to function in society as well as in the classroom. Completing homework or learning to arrive to a class promptly is part of the lesson. Cousineau agrees. “You have to get the kids to concentrate and to focus. For example, they are often asked to remember what they did last class in order to incorporate the movements into the next one,” said Cousineau. He paused for thought before positing that ballet subscribes to its own particular mentality. “You have to train your body as an instrument,” he added. “In this respect, you have to learn the alphabet of dancing in order to progress from words to phrases to sentences.” In other words, you have to master the positions before developing movements that will eventually combine into a dance routine. It can be hard, gruelling work.
A number of new classes have been launched to motivate students to pursue their love of ballet but to also push themselves to work hard. For example, a new class titled Solfège teaches the basics of music theory. Students learn to pick out elements of a musical piece including rhythm, pitch and the musical scale. Although it may sound easy, the discovery can be an eye-opener for a child never accustomed to music played in the household. In addition to the Solfège class, Usenko has introduced an annual exam which she perceives to function as a motivational strategy. “The exam was created to help push the students to want to graduate from one level of dancing to another,” said Usenko. “By seeing what older students can accomplish, the younger members of our school will strive for more ambitious goals.”
Usenko never seems to stop. These days, she is hard at work preparing choreography and putting her creative hat on for a fresh version of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, which is scheduled to be staged at Theatre Lac Brome next year.
It’s pretty easy to see that the organizers of Sutton’s classical ballet school are dreaming big… and going strong.