Published Work of Miriam C. Jacobs



“Groovy Roomies,” Dancer Magazine, December 2005

December 2006

December 2006



School of the North Carolina Dance Theatre’s Conservatory Program

It is a crisp fall morning in Charlotte, North Carolina, and fourteen year old roommates, Lindsay Woodall and Jane Yoon, are getting dressed – not for a day at school, but for ballet class.  Charlotte, once a sleepy southern town, is fast becoming an arts mecca and mini metropolis, with the Balanchine-inspired dance company, the North Carolina Dance Theatre, co-directed by retired New York City Ballet dancers Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Patricia McBride at its center.  It is here the two girls, among the youngest ever admitted to NCDT’s Conservatory Program, are headed for a day of big sweat and small glory, as they work their bodies and brains to the limit to achieve their mutual dream of a professional dance career.

“Only three months ago,” says Yoon, “my future seemed to be up in the air.”  She was a student at North Atlanta Dance Academy, in Georgia, attending three different summer programs in widely dispersed areas of the country.  She was a favorite with her teachers, dancing the only solo in her class at the Universal Ballet Academy Summer Session II demonstration.  But she was becoming more and more dissatisfied with her work at NADA.  “My teachers in Georgia were awesome, but I was too comfortable there. No matter how hard I tried, I always felt like I was slacking.”  It was time for a change.  But Yoon was also plagued by a worry that at just under 5’ 10”she was too tall to dance ballet.  She would tower over her partners, she feared, and would end up scrunching down in the back row of any professional company that accepted her.  So NCDT’s standard that welcomed tall dancers was the opposite of what she expected.

“Have you seen our company?” Darleen Callaghan, retired company principal and director of the school, asks.  “More than half the women are in the 5’7” to 5’9” height range.  Jane and Lindsay (Woodall is 5”7”) fit right in.”  And NCDT is not the only prominent American dance company that looks for taller female artists.  “San Francisco, New York City Ballet, Houston, Seattle, Canada’s National Ballet, all have lots of tall girls on their company rosters.”

Woodall, too, who started dancing at age nine and has been en pointe for only a year, was surprised by the sudden change in her life.  “I danced at a tiny school in Arizona,” she says. “It was just for fun.  Then we moved here, and I started taking classes at NCDT, and all of a sudden I had a big problem: homework.”

Any serious dancer who attends a public school knows what she means. “You come home from school and you have to rush to make the carpool on time.  Then you take three hours of dance class.  By the time you get back it’s nine or ten o’clock, and you still haven’t started your homework.  Some nights you’re up till midnight or later.”

“I never seemed to get enough sleep,” Yoon agrees, remembering the juggling of her schedule that was so much a part of her life only a short time ago.  “On Sundays, I’d stay in bed till 2 or 3 in the afternoon, I was so tired.  That is, if I didn’t have rehearsal.”

Acceptance with NCDT’s Conservatory has put an end to this dilemma, for both girls.   Now, instead of waking up at 6:30AM to get ready to catch a school bus, they can sleep until 7:30 or 8:00. Technique class begins at 9:30, followed by courses in pedagogy, Pilates, floor barre, composition, or dance history.  Frequently they are joined in these classes with company trainees, apprentices, and, occasionally, full-fledged company members.  Afterwards, they shower, eat lunch, and spend the afternoon completing their high school credits through Indiana University High School’s Independent Study Program.

“It’s an excellent choice for any serious dancer,” says Callaghan, who helped in getting the two programs – the NCDT Conservatory and Indiana University – together. Students work at their own pace, completing assignments, essays and tests either through the web-based option, where students to work on line and submit assignments via the internet, or the more traditional, paper-based option, where they send finished work to their instructors by mail.  If they have to stop working on assignments to get ready for a performance, there is no penalty and no catch up.

“You just pick up where you left off,” says Yoon.

A further benefit of completing a high school diploma through Indiana University is that for many courses students can take advantage of dual enrollment.  This means the credits they earn count for both high school and college.  It is possible, therefore, for IU students to finish a diploma with a year of college under their belts – a great leg-up whatever future they opt for.

In the evenings, Woodall and Yoon return to the NCDT studios for their classes in ballet, pointe, modern, partnering, variations and jazz.  It’s a full day of dancing, and that’s not including rehearsals. Casting assignments and performance practices are posted on the bulletin board, usually with only a few days’ advance notice before rehearsals begin.

Being able to work with choreographers like Dwight Rhodens, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, Michael Pink, Mark Diamond, Jeanene Russell and Heather Ferranti-Ferguson is a second important benefit of the program.  “When I began studying at the School of American Ballet,” Associate Artistic Director Patricia McBride explains, “I was fourteen years old, the same age Jane and Lindsay are now, but I didn’t have the advantage of working with a company.  All we had was class – which is great for developing technique – but for discovering yourself as an artist, developing artistry, working with choreographers on new pieces can’t be compared with any other way of studying dance.  It’s simply the best.”

It’s also a good way to find out if a career in dance is what you really want.  “Our students live and breathe dance all day long,” Darleen Callaghan says, “and are fully prepared for employment in this profession – as performers and teachers, choreographers, program directors – they’ve even been exposed to the advertising and marketing and fund-raising aspects of a dance organization.  They understand what’s involved.  Of course there are no guarantees.  But there is a significant value in training at a school that is affiliated with a company, and an advantage in seeing dancers every day in rehearsal and performance.  It’s a whole different exposure.”

Woodall and Yoon are discovering exactly what it’s like to work with a professional choreographer. “I love being with the professionals, having them as fellow students in my classes, and being able to learn from them, as my teachers,” says Woodall.  Currently Mark Diamond is rehearsing the girls for a revival of his dynamic and trend-setting Allegro con molto, Yoon as an understudy and Woodall in the cast. Both young women are also performing in Ferranti-Ferguson’s and Russell’s new pieces, which will premiere at one of several dance events in the upcoming year: the Winter Festival of Dance, in Gastonia, North Carolina, The North Carolina Dance Festival in Winston-Salem, The North Carolina Choreography Showcase, and SERBA (the South Eastern Regional Ballet Association) in Raleigh. “It’s exciting to be chosen,” says Woodall, and the work is so interesting you forget how hard it is.”

Yoon shares a page of her diary, written on the day she found out she had gotten the part:

Mr. Diamond’s class went well this morning, apart from my knee pain.  He has decided that he would like Pauline [Huron], Alyssa [Botelho], and me to understudy his piece, Allegro, and Lindsay has the opportunity to perform it.  I feel incredibly privileged, and see it as a sign of his interest in us.

Diamond’s choice reveals NCDT’s confidence in the commitment these young people demonstrate. “Our mission is to offer serious dance students the opportunity to incorporate college-preparatory academics with excellent dance training,” Callaghan maintains. “So we look for kids who are not only motivated to pursue a career in dance, but who have the focus and the discipline to do the work.”

Right now, there are eleven students in the Conservatory, and another six in the University of North Carolina Charlotte Dance Certificate Program, a course of study that allows them to obtain a certificate in dance while earning a college degree.  “There’s a historical advantage in training in North Carolina,” says Callaghan. “It’s been just great for dancers.  We perform Balanchine repertory, and we’ve also worked with a large number of upcoming and established of choreographers. With generous state funding and all the NEA touring grants – in the eighties NCDT was the number one touring company in the U.S.  – we’ve always been financially secure, and consequently the company is very stable.  We don’t see a lot of turnover among the professionals.”

What does this stability mean for trainees who dream of a dance future with NCDT?  “We encourage the Conservatory students to take advantage of opportunities to prepare for employment with a dance company,” Callaghan affirms.  “Maybe it will be North Carolina, but often not.  Conservatory students attend every summer program audition that’s held in our studios. We believe that such exposure can only benefit the dancer.

“When you work with a variety of teachers and directors, you broaden your horizons, and the more you’re seen, the more opportunities you’ll have to do just that. We never hold students back.  What would be the point of that?  When a school or company shows interest in one of our students, it’s an affirmation for us.  We know we’re doing good work.  And we take part in the student’s decision to move on.  Are this student and this company a good match?  We counsel, we recommend, and we work with the dancer’s family.  People want to know how to get into big companies.  This is the way it’s done.”

This past year, several NCDT students distinguished themselves with substantial moves.  One accepted a contract with Houston Ballet’s second company.  Another was offered a full scholarship to Miami City Ballet School.  A third, only twelve years old, has moved to the year-round program at Canada’s National Ballet School.  “These are the success stories that tell us how well we’re doing,” says Callaghan.

As for the immediate future, NCDT is looking to start construction of a new building with state-of-the-art studios, classrooms, a student center, comfortable dressing rooms, and possibly, dormitories.  Currently, there is another plan afoot to establish dorm arrangements with a nearby community college.  Yoon, an out-of-stater, lives with a host family, the Woodalls, which is a clear advantage for her and Lindsay, since they attend the same classes, and even study the same courses together through IU.  But many people prefer the convenience of living in a dorm, an alternative that will soon become a viable choice for students at NCDT.

For more information about NCDT’s Conservatory Program and Indiana University High School’s Independent study Program, please contact Darleen Callaghan at (704) 372-0101.



April 2004

April 2004

For many teens, summer means relaxing days by the pool. But thousands of
serious, young dancers spend their summer vacations in the studio
working harder than ever. Intensive summer training sessions are a great
way to try out new teachers and styles—or to delve more deeply into the
technique you enjoy most. They can also give you a feel for what
rigorous, conservatory training is like. Indeed, some young dancers use
summer programs to sample schools they might want to attend year-round.
That’s true for twelve year old Jane Yoon. The fact that she was
shopping for a great summer program that might also become her
year-round school made her choice especially exciting and challenging.

“I know I’m choosing good places to audition,” said Yoon, “but sometimes
it feels like I’m just going by the pictures in brochures. I’m glad my
parents helped me figure out what I really want. All schools have
hierarchies, and things that go on under the surface. I’d like to know
in advance if those things are ones I can handle, or maybe even ones I’m
looking for. How competitive will it be? Will I make friends easily?”

Whether your main interest is great summer experience or a long-term
program, deciding where to go can be a daunting task. There are many
great schools and programs that differ widely. Becoming familiar with
their different focuses and offerings will help you find a program that
meets your goals and interests.

At Idyllwild Arts Academy, for example, the emphasis is development of
the individual through the arts. Summer programs for students in every
age group are offered: ballet, jazz, tap and theatre dance among an
abundance of other art forms. Situated in the mountains above Palm
Springs, California, the academy’s curriculum concentrates on classical
technique and artistic expression. All dance students takes courses in
ballet, modern, and jazz. Says Tia Dionne, a senior in the year-round
program, “It’s not competitive. It’s all about inspiration. I’d like to
get into a company, but there are a lot of other things I’m planning,
too. The teachers here give you the tools you need to make it.” Most
graduates of the year-round program go to college and into a variety of

According to William Lowman, Headmaster, “Idyllwild students are highly
individualistic. They represent a cross-section of the world, but they
share one important character trait: a burning desire to do something
different with their lives.” Students view themselves as valued members
of an artistic community, and explore multiple avenues for
self-expression. Nearby Los Angeles, a 45-minute drive away, provides
opportunities for year-round students to view performances and enjoy the

Interlochen Center for the Arts, in Michigan, is distinguished by its
affiliation with University of Michigan, and its 1,200 acre rural
setting. Although more than 2,000 students attend summer camp, just 100
are dance majors. The rest study creative writing, music, theater and
visual arts. Dancers live in cabins with students from any or all of
these programs, and in addition to dancing 5 to 6 hours per day, engage
in a variety of outdoor activities. The focus of the dance program is
modern and ballet, with courses in improvisation, composition, and
repertory. For school-year students, the academy offers an outstanding
academic education to students in grades 3 -12. Distinguished alumni
include: Mike Wallace, CBS News Correspondent; Tom Hulce, who played the
title role in the film Amadeus; and Tom Rawe of Twyla Tharp Company.
Each year, Interlochen presents more than 750 performances involving
students. Summer dancers are involved in two performances during each
four-week session (there are two dance sessions each summer). The school
also hosts prominent guest artists during the summer who perform and
offer master classes.

The Kirov Academy of Ballet offers a more urban experience. Located in
Washington, D.C., the school shares facilities during the summer
(swimming pool, residence hall) with nearby Trinity College. The
five-story building contains two large, world-class studios and three
smaller ones, air-conditioned dormitories, library, Pilates studio,
costume shop and classrooms.

Of the approximately 280 dance students who attend summer school, ten
percent continue in the year-round program. There are classes in ballet
(Vaganova method), pointe, character, Spanish, hip-hop, jazz and, during
winter months, Russian. SAT scores of graduating students are high,
averaging between 1100 and 1300, and most go directly into dance
companies. Students view one another as ‘family,’ and older students
look after younger ones.

Kirov is unique in its affiliations with the Kirov-Mariensky Ballet and
Universal Ballet companies. Many Kirov Academy graduates have gone on to
dance with Universal Ballet Company, or to study dance for another year
in St. Petersburg. Summer school students get the benefit of taking
classes with the same teachers who work with academy students year
round. One of these, Angelina Armeiskaya, was a student at the Kirov
Maryinsky Theatre School, and the lead character in the 1977 documentary
film, The Children of Theatre Street. Summer and academy students alike
become the beneficiaries of a tradition, transmitted from student to
teacher to student again—minds meeting minds across the years. The
academy also boasts a string of Prix de Lausanne and Varna medallists,
including Michele Wiles, who presently dances for ABT, and Rasta Thomas,
at NYCB.

Canada’s National Ballet School, set in the vital arts community of
downtown Toronto, provides access to overseas exchange in an
international setting. The school has partnerships with 12 other ballet
programs, including the Hamburg and Royal Ballet schools that offer
year-round senior students the opportunity to spend a summer in a ballet
academy abroad. The program has evolved its own style, combining
Vaganova, Bournonville and Cecchetti, giving graduates a “clean line and
exciting style, outstanding preparation for dancing with any company,”
says director Mavis Staines.

The expanding facility includes residences, nine studios, a theater,
pool, computer room, and physiotherapy clinic, all available for
supervised use by summer school students. For year-round students, the
academy offers a full curriculum of requirements and electives,
including French. In addition, students take courses in nutrition and
overall body fitness. All students who wish to attend the academic
program must audition and attend summer school first. It is a way for
the dance school and the potential student to try each other out. “The
atmosphere of learning is highly supportive,” says one administrator.
“The total package is a ‘home-away-from-home’ along with exceptional

National Ballet School alumni are in high demand. Currently, graduates
dance at more than 35 companies around the world. Audition tours are
held in each year, and approximately 25% of students admitted to the
summer program are invited to attend the school.
Another school that turns out sought-after graduates is the North
Carolina School of the Arts. The campus sits in a mixed
residential/warehouse district near historic downtown Winston-Salem, and
offers both a college-preparatory high school diploma and a BFA. The
dancers occupy a large building shared with both drama and music
students. Since summer programs are offered in other areas of
concentration besides dance, students meet contemporaries in other
fields and share ideas. (During the school year, students from different
disciplines even share dorm rooms.) At the conclusion of the 5 weeks of
summer study, there’s a demo performance, mostly for friends and
families. In the year-round program, however, dancers perform for the
public, both on campus and in a downtown theater. NCSA stages eighteen
performances of The Nutcracker each December. Revenue from these
performances funds scholarships. The department is also endowed with
Lucia Chase and Nureyev Guest Artist fellowships.

A distinguished faculty, including NYCB’s Melissa Hayden, Varna
medallist Gyula Pandi, and Kirsten Simone of the Royal Danish Ballet,
represent a variety of dance and teaching styles. “Most schools focus on
a single style,” says the school’s dean Susan McCollough, “Bournonville,
Vaganova, Graham, Limón, Arthur Mitchell. We do that [ALL THOSE?] and
more. Our faculty is diverse, and students show the effects by
developing strength in multiple areas.” The real focus is on perfecting
technique, from step to movement. “Your knees have to kiss each other,”
Hayden told one group last summer. “Otherwise, it’s not doing you any
good.” Students emerge with experience in Balanchine, RAD, de Mille and
Ailey among others. “It makes you flexible to change,” one student said.
“I’ve gotten a lot stronger.”

Summer school is used for recruitment, while year-round students tend to broaden

their horizons in other programs during the summer months. Graduates include Deanna

Seay, Miami City Ballet; Lynnette Hitchens, Pacific Northwest Ballet; Jeanne Ruddy,
Martha Graham Company, Mark Dendy, and Mark Dendy Dance.
So once you gather all the facts, how do you decide? One thing to think
about is whether you’re looking for exposure to a plethora of dance
styles or in-depth concentration on one. Many bright, talented dancers
with academic potential are happy in more diverse, less focused
programs. Also, every school has a “personality.” Administrators and
teachers create a culture that is modeled in class and even in the
dorms. You should look for programs that will challenge you—but that
also create an atmosphere where you enjoy learning and feel comfortable.
Attending summer study program auditions is a good way to check this
out. Trying out for a program can teach you a lot, even if you don’t get

And once you find the ideal place, it’s important to remember that you
still have to take responsibility for learning what’s taught. “It’s not
enough just to appear,” says Yoon, who decided to attend Kirov last
summer, and to put off year-round academy study until she’s older. “It’s
hard, but it’s fun, too. I don’t think I really knew how much I love
dance until I went there. If you’re lucky, you get a lot of corrections.
And nothing’s better than hearing, after all that work, ‘That’s right!’”