SAB’s National Visiting Fellows Program Creates Partnerships Made to Last
The School of American Ballet established the National Visiting Fellows program in 2015 with the intention of cultivating relationships with ballet teachers from around the country who are committed to training students from diverse backgrounds. After applying to the program, selected Visiting Fellows are invited to attend two all-expenses-paid sessions during SAB’s Winter Term, where they observe a range of SAB classes, meet with faculty, teach classes, and have the opportunity to discuss relevant topics in dance education with administrative staff and faculty. In addition, the home school of each selected Visiting Fellow receives a monetary award of $5,000 to apply to its own diversity-related initiatives. The National Visiting Fellows Program is made possible through support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
“Working with SAB’s National Visiting Fellows continues to be a highlight of each year at SAB,” says Elise Drew León, SAB’s Manager of Diversity and Inclusion. “Each cohort is unique and brings such a depth and breadth of experience to their Fellowship year. As much as they come to learn from and engage with SAB faculty, staff, and students, we are equally inspired by each of them and the work that they are doing to propel their ballet students forward.”
Since the program began, SAB has awarded fellowships to over 25 teaching professionals across the United States. Their home schools include Philadelphia School of Dance Arts, The Washington Ballet School, Debbie Allen Dance Academy, Metayer Conservatory of the Arts, The Ailey School, and InSpira Performing Arts and Cultural Center, just to name a few. Then in 2018, in partnership with past Fellows, SAB implemented national outreach programs consisting of free masterclasses and teacher training workshops for local students and dance educators in their own communities.
“Sharing resources is an important part of our continued collaboration and we are so thrilled to be taking the next steps to broaden our reach,” Ms. León explains. “To be hosted by Visiting Fellows alumni in their own home studios allows us to engage more directly with their students and other dance faculty within their communities.”
“The School of American Ballet’s National Visiting Fellows Program has had, and continues to have, a tremendous impact on our school’s curriculum and community,” Nikki Hefko, one of SAB’s 2017-18 Visiting Fellows and studio owner of the New Orleans School of Ballet (NOSB), shared when asked about her experience in the program.
“Initially, I was excited to participate as a Visiting Fellow as a way to enhance my teaching and that of my staff, as well as to focus our school’s curriculum and our ability to offer excellent training to dancers with exceptional potential and a strong desire to pursue rigorous classical technique,” she continued. “From observing classes and discussing pedagogy and curriculum, to teaching with feedback from SAB’S valued instructors, to accessing the School’s administrative resources, and receiving the studio stipend toward diversity initiatives, my time during the fellowship was both rewarding and inspiring. However, the value of the Visiting Fellowship has gone far and beyond my initial expectations.”
Ms. Hefko hosted an SAB outreach program at her school this past October. The free, day-long workshop was led by master teacher and SAB faculty member Katrina Killian, and aimed to introduce local teachers and students to the Balanchine aesthetic and SAB’s training approach. Teachers observed Ms. Killian as she taught ballet technique for students ages 12-18, before delving into teaching workshops tailored by age group. The day concluded with a workshop on teaching beginning pointe and a final discussion among all the teachers in attendance.
“Developing a dancer takes years and the same can be said for dance teachers,” Ms. Killian explains. “It is for this reason that we are constantly looking to strengthen our relationships with our Visiting Fellows Alumni so that we can continue to support their professional development as teachers. The outreach program is really a win-win for everyone, as it personally helps me as SAB’s Children’s Division Manager in my learning of how to impart the SAB curriculum to teachers who are brand new to it. We’re all learning and progressing together.”
“SAB offers ballet training at the highest level which may intimidate some young dancers. However, the Fellowship helps de-mystify this aspect for schools and teachers by sharing specifically what the School offers and what they are looking for in future students.” Ms. Hefko explains.
“It was incredibly special to work closely with SAB in their aim to help dancers and teachers gain access to the School through workshops and masterclasses like the ones taught by Katrina Killian at NOSB in October 2019. This was an excellent opportunity for SAB to expand its reach and for NOSB to foster greater dialogue within our local New Orleans dance community of ballet teachers.”
“I feel so lucky to have been a part of the workshop at NOSB and the National Visiting Fellows program in general,” Ms. Killian says. “We’re really broadening awareness of SAB’s work and creating a wonderful network of partners around the U.S.”
Beyond the hope that such workshops will provide ballet teachers with the tools and resources to help nurture a new generation of dancers, SAB’s national outreach program is merely one example of how the National Visiting Fellows program can serve as a catalyst for a long-term partnership between the Fellows and SAB. In January of 2020, SAB worked with Ms. Hefko again to host SAB’s National Audition Tour visit to New Orleans.
“It was a thrill to participate in the SAB fellowship and to help foster diversity in ballet through partnerships and collaborations with the School,” Ms. Hefko concludes. “Diversity and inclusion conversations in ballet are vital, but the ideas generated from these talks must be implemented in studios and institutions to make change happen. It is exciting to be a part of this journey with the School of American Ballet.”
Applications for the 2021-22 Visiting Fellows Program are currently open and will be accepted through June 30, 2021. SAB encourages any dedicated dance educator committed to training students from diverse backgrounds to apply. After all, it could be the beginning of a beautiful partnership made to last.
All SAB photos by Rosalie O’Connor. Photos taken at New Orleans School of Ballet by Carrie Kinsella.