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Centennial Youth Ballet: Looking back on a dance experience

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Centennial Youth Ballet, part of the dance division of Nashville's Metropolitan Board of Parks and Recreation, is a small, affordable dance school with surprisingly high standards of excellence. Students who have attended can testify to this tiny school's passion for classical art and the life skills it teaches, whether they pursue a dance career or not.

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Take Abigail Higgins, a former ballet student at CYB, who is now a freshman in college. She hasn't danced in over ten months, but she says of her time at CYB, “I didn’t just learn ballet; I learned perseverance, commitment, and passion. These valuable skills have transferred over to the life I am living today. … So although I’m not putting my dancing into practice today, I’m still using those life lessons every day and will continue to for the rest of my life.” Abigail says she started dancing in kindergarten with a once-a-week class, and tried other activities such as golf and soccer, but at age twelve she settled down at Centennial for over six years of quality training. A typical intermediate-level student at CYB takes classical ballet four days each week, and most students opt to perform as well, which means there are additional rehearsals on weekends. Most girls begin learning pointe work around age 12 or13, when they have reached an Intermediate II level class. The time commitment and energy required is certainly high compared to most other recreational activities, but the achievement of putting on an excellent performance, or simply learning a new skill, is well worth it. “Overall my experience at CYB is something I wouldn’t trade for anything,” says Abigail. “The life lessons I learned from my instructors and classmates are priceless.”

While many students are in classes simply as an enjoyable extracurricular, others who wish to pursue a professional career in the dance world have found their springboard at CYB. Mary Pellett, who has been a trainee with both Portland Festival Ballet and Joffrey Ballet Academy, and attended numerous summer programs at professional schools such as Kirov Academy and Magnus Midwest, says that CYB helped her in so many ways that she finds it difficult to put into words. Time management, teamwork, dealing with stress and pain, and social skills are just a few of the things she lists. What has she learned? “How to express myself in movement,” she says. “How to release. How to be free to be myself. How to not judge others based on exterior and without prior knowledge of her/his history or background. That I really love the arts!” She, like hundreds of other students over the 40+ years of the school's history, has flourished as a whole person through dancing.

The school has undergone changes in administration over the past year, due to budget cuts higher up in the system, but it remains one of the few dance schools in Nashville to provide a high standard of excellent training in classical ballet as well as a reasonable cost. Live pianists are also rare among Nashville's dance studios, but CYB has them. The studios are well-equipped and the location is conveniently central. The student group is diverse, bringing young people from all over Nashville and with all kinds of backgrounds together. Unlike some professional schools, there is no pressure on girls to lose weight and be dangerously thin, and there is always a place for every kind of student in the classes and performances. However, like any professional school, hard work, commitment, and respect for others and the school are required. Abigail sums up what most students think when they look back on their CYB experience: “Yes, of course there were times when I wanted to quit and give up because of the hard work, but there were other times where I was the happiest I could be dancing in that studio.” Mary also sums it up well when she says: “Really everything I have learned has been influenced by CYB. I am thankful!”

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