En Pointe 03 - April 18
Learning Together: RWB Teachers Bring Ballet Classes Online
Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet School Professional Division, the RWB’s internationally renowned training program for aspiring professional dancers and dance teachers, has operated since 1970 with one primary goal: produce versatile, world-class dancers who are themselves capable of finding meaningful employment within the world of dance.
On March 23rd, when the Government of Manitoba announced the indefinite closure of all schools in order to protect children and slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus, the RWB followed suit. More than anything in the school’s 50-year history, this has presented a challenge for the Professional Division, but thanks to modern technology and the resourcefulness of the school’s faculty, it continues to pursue its mission.
“We’re teaching every day on Zoom now,” says Sabine Chaland, a member of the Professional Division Artistic Faculty. “We have a schedule for the whole school.”
Zoom is a video conferencing tool created by Microsoft. It’s intended for webinars and remote meetings, but it has seen a surge of popularity after social distancing measures were put in place across North America. One of Zoom’s newly discovered uses has been teaching ballet classes.
The RWB Professional Division has wholly transformed itself in a few short weeks to incorporate the newly relevant tools. The Ballet Academic Program, Aspirant Program and Teacher Training Program have all moved online for the time being. In addition to daily ballet classes, the school also offers floor barre classes, pointe classes, conditioning, character classes, Zen sessions and more. Each class also has a weekly check in with their teacher and assignments to complete on their own. The school is also developing ways of celebrating successful completion of the courses with virtual graduations and other fun ways to commemorate the hard work of the students while waiting to return to the studio.
“It takes more energy,” says Sabine, “trying to see on the screen who’s doing what.”
Sabine is one of the RWB School’s exceptional teachers. She trained in the South of France before becoming a soloist with the Dutch National Ballet, and later with Boston Ballet. She has also taught dance for more than 15 years, as a ballet master at the RWB from 2007-2010, and later for ballet schools in Europe, Argentina and Japan. Sabine now lives in Winnipeg with her former partner, Gael Lambiotte, and their son.
Gael is also a teacher at the RWB and an outstanding dancer in his own right. A former principal dancer with the RWB, the Dutch National Ballet, the Boston Ballet, and Les Grand Ballet Canadiens de Montréal, Gael has appeared in various galas and guested with companies throughout Japan, Europe and America. He was also featured as a Special Guest Artist with the Royal Ballet of London during their 2002 Australian tour.
“We teach two classes a day,” says Gael. “I do an hour and a half with the men, and Sabine does two hours with the ladies. We actually do a full class from our dining room. We take the table out, move the chairs and make it so everyone can see you.”
The artistic faculty at the RWB Professional Division has been working hard to meet the needs of the students no matter where they are. A special website was created to host the classes, along with extra material and assignment for every class, and starting this week, the Professional Division faculty introduced classes for international students who are unable to attend class at 10am CST.
Long-distance teaching has not been without its challenges, and Gael says that some of the tools he uses to teach don’t translate to the virtual classes. “We cannot use our hands. We have to use our voice, so it’s important to be specific and give corrections clearly.”
Despite the changes to the classroom, Gael and Sabine agree that it’s important to stay in regular contact with the students during the pandemic. “These months, you can’t lose them,” says Gael, “because soon our dancers will be looking for a job. The idea is to still work, so when we do come back, [the students] don’t have to spend six months to get back to where we were.”
The RWB Professional Division continues to examine new ways to stay engaged with students and further their education. Producing world-class, professional dancers able to find work in the highly competitive dance world remains vitally important to the RWB. Supporting their education from afar ensures that when the world is ready for dancers again, the students who were impacted by Covid-19 will be there to meet that need.