Ballet Blog- Dance Epiphany after the Winter Intensive

At the time of writing this, it’s Sunday morning. I am watching Fareed Zakaria’s GPS show on CNN as he is interviewing author David Epstein about his book “Range”. While listening to the interview, I have an epiphany.

In the interview, David Epstein talks about the importance of experimenting with different specialties in childhood and throughout life. Contrary to common assumptions, later specialization may help individuals in the long run, thus, the name of his book “Range”. With that understanding, I looked back at many of the undertakings of Live Oak Dance this past year, and I was truly pleased to see how much and how often we got this right.

What do we do?

We are a specialized ballet school. The primary focus of Live Oak is training ballet dancers to become experts. As such, the majority of our classes are focused on comprehensive ballet training. Additionally, however, we also offer courses to compliment this training, such as monthly contemporary workshops and Pilates classes. Intuitively, we added these programs without fully comprehending the potential that this has for our dancers. We have ultimately found that the diversity in classes is truly important in well-rounded ballet development.

What do we observe?

Over the course of the school year, we’ve observed our students who take a variety of classes, and what we’ve seen to be true is that their growth in ballet technique becomes accelerated. Additionally, their understanding of what it means to be an artist truly expands. We see this to be even more true when academic school is not in session, and when dancers are able to come into the studio for the entire day during our winter or summer intensives. When we host these programs, we traditionally bring in guest teachers and new classes to enrich students in different disciplines, and we get even more variety into the student’s training.

Which brings us to this past year’s winter intensive: “Nurturing the Whole Dancer”. This program was a collaboration with my accomplished and talented long-time friend and co-worker Kesha McKey. This year, we wanted to shake things up a bit. In addition to dance classes, we infused the program with a more holistic approach to dance wellness. We added a forum session, one-on-one mentoring time, and we also decided to have the program be evenly divided between ballet and contemporary dancing. As part of the mentoring program, we observed each student in every class they took.

We both observed and/or participated in all classes in order to mentor each student as effectively as possible. As I was observing Kesha teach her improv class, I started to make sense of why the improv vocabulary is so important for ballet. To learn how to be an effective and artful ballet dancer, the student must be capable of making swift decisions on how they are going to MOVE!


Somehow, when I added our contemporary workshop programs to the curriculum over the past year or so, I knew I was on to something. I just didn’t know how important the diversity in dance specialization truly is.

For me, this consciousness started during the winter intensive and was fully realized by the end of Zakaria’s interview. Now I know what I want to bring to Live Oak next.

Moving Forward…

I am happy to announce our Summer Intensive will follow the spirit and the format of this winter’s “Nurturing the Whole Dancer”. This summer, we will not only offer a variety of specially curated classes that will help each individual “connect the dots” in their dance repertoire, we will also have two dedicated teachers per week who will observe and mentor students throughout the program. Each week will be unique since each week will have a different set of teachers as mentors. As always, the teachers in our summer intensive will represent some of the best dance professionals that New Orleans has to offer. The insight that these pillars in our community will have will be invaluable to you/your dancer. We will continue to have conditioning classes, and the focus will remain on ballet. We do, however, intend on adding new genres to each week.

I am eternally grateful to the teachers in this workshop. Their insight, specialized training, and general comprehension of dance as an art form continues to enlighten and inform me, and our students, in new ways and disciplines, truly revealing the importance of diversity in dance.

Thank you!

Joshu Bell and Live Oak Dance students at he end of a contemporary dance class.