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Ballet Gets Interactive - The Hattori/Williamson School of Ballet

by The Six Foot Canasian

SFC Hattori-Williamson School of Ballet

In the past, when people would ask me about Calgary I would give the typical response, "It's famous for the Calgary Stampede, as the host of the 1988 Winter Olympics, and is the home of three professional sports teams ... the Calgary Flames (National Hockey League), Calgary Stampeders (Canadian Football League), and Calgary Roughnecks (National Lacrosse League)". I would recite things that people would see here and what made us visibly different from other cities. Two years into the Six Foot Canasian project, with all of my experiences getting reconnected to the city and it's many wonders, my response now is VERY DIFFERENT!

What I've come to realize is that Calgary is not a city that you just see ... it's a city that's completely interactive and one where you can truly experience it with all five senses! This is especially true when it comes to Calgary's vibrant arts and cultural scene ... including the world of ballet and the performing arts.

Instead of having dreams of becoming a dancer or ballerina, like many young girls growing up, I had two left feet, no sense of coordination, and chose to focus my efforts on "nerdier" pursuits ... including math, science, and music. Instead of preparing for talent shows and creative pursuits I entered into science fairs and buried my nose in the comfort of books. It wasn't until junior high that I grew into my limbs and got into every sport that would let me participate! Unfortunately, my attempts at dance were unsuccessful (and slightly embarrassing) ... so I never looked back. It wasn't until a meeting with Yukichi Hattori, Galien Johnston-Hattori, and Tara Williamson-Campbell (all recently retired professional ballet dancers) just a few short months ago, that got me interested in ballet as a performing art and an activity that I would one day try for myself. 

My First Ballet Experience

As a fan of music and timeless classics, I was given tickets to the Alberta Ballet's production of "Love Lies Bleeding" for my birthday. Excited to hear the iconic music of Sir Elton John (i.e., "Rocket Man", "Bennie and the Jets", "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", "I Believe in Love", and others), I had never been to a ballet and didn't know what to expect when I entered the Jubilee Auditorium. Little did I know the impact this performance would have on me ... and how it would pique my interest in ballet here in the city of Calgary!

The performance was emotional, electric, powerful, and had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. The cast of dancers took the audience through an impassioned roller coaster ride that was Elton John's life ... the highs, the lows, the losses, and the triumphs. The show was truly spectacular, led by Yukichi Hattori playing the role of Elton John, who happened to also be giving his final performance as a professional ballet dancer. After ten years with the company the show ended with a tribute to his dedicated work as a professional dancer and choreographer with the Alberta Ballet, as he was joined by his wife, Galien, and their two children on stage.

The movements were so precise, so graceful, so fluid and seemingly effortless ... it was like art translated through the body of each dancer. I couldn't get over the athleticism and awe I found myself in throughout each scene played out on stage. The things I saw before my eyes were feats that defied gravity, choreographed perfectly to the music and stirring uncontrollable emotions throughout the crowd. It's an evening that I will never forget.

The Hattori/Williamson School of Ballet

Since that time, through a series of serendipitous events, I've had the great pleasure of getting to know Yukichi, Galien and Tara. While watching in awe as a member of the audience at the Jubilee Auditorium, I had no idea this trio of dancers, collectively with over 40 years of experience as students and another 40 years experience as professional dancers with established companies, were getting ready to start the next chapter in their dance careers. They were preparing to launch the Hattori/Williamson School of Ballet!

Unlike the serious characters in ballets most of us are familiar with (i.e., Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, The Nutcracker) these three dancers are incredibly down-to-earth and approachable, even goofy at times! But, most importantly, they each have a boundless passion for ballet and a desire to share their knowledge, experience, and guidance with those wanting to pursue a professional career.

The Hattori/Williamson School of Ballet is unique to other schools here in Calgary in that all ballet teachers are retired professional dancers with at least a decade of experience with a company. They offer students an internationally recognized level of instruction and can provide mentorship and teaching beyond the barre ... knowing how to navigate life as a professional dancer and understanding the highs, lows, and realistic expectations a dancer will face as they pursue this career path. Starting with students as young as four years of age, the Hattori/Williamson School of Ballet offers comprehensive programs, workshops, solos and privates, choreography, and (even) Adult Classes!

Adult Ballet Adventures

One of the few Asian traits that I have been cursed with (aside from having a brain that works like an Excel spreadsheet) is my fear of failure and avoiding situations where I will embarrass myself. Needless to say, I've avoided participating in any type of dance class since University (a requirement for my Exercise Physiology degree). With six months of "research" under my belt I was inspired and intrigued to give it another try. Yukichi, Galien, and Tara invited me to join the Adult Class they offer on Saturdays at 9:30am (at the Evergreen Community Spaces) and promised it would be FUN

Although I have been an athlete for many years, and no stranger to rigorous training, nothing could have prepared me for this Adult Ballet class. I had participated in a handful of barre fitness classes at various studios over the years but this class taught me that those particular classes are nothing like the real thing.

On Saturday morning, I was a part of a traditional ballet class, complete with terminology, structured music, and progressive choreography. No weights. No distractions. No excuses! Luckily, the other participants (most of which who had been there for several weeks) were completely welcoming and helped me every step of the way! 

Although I was not familiar with the terminology (first position, second position, third position, fourth position, and fifth position for the feet and hands), I did my very best to keep up with the others in the class. Galien was VERY patient with me and the others were so supportive I couldn't help but have fun, laugh at myself, and completely enjoy myself! This was a REAL ballet class, complete with movements and choreography including: arabesque, attitude, chassé, demi-plié, pas de bourrée, plié, relevé, retiré, tendue, tendue en croix, turnout, and other ballet positions. The class was progressive and helped to prepare us as we put everything together to music. 

As goofy as I looked, and as unnatural as I felt, I HAD SO MUCH FUN! I know that if I kept up with the classes I would see improvements over time (not to mention how much I felt the work in my non-existent Asian butt and inner thighs for the next two days)! I could even see myself becoming more graceful, poised, and strong ... like Yukichi, Galien, and Tara! (wink ... wink ... wink ...)

At the conclusion of the class I got a chance to watch a few of the young dancers rehearse for the upcoming performance of "The BLUE Gala", the first event produced by the Hattori/Williamson School of Ballet (on Saturday, February 18th at the DJD Dance Centre)! This performance is designed to lift the collective spirit of the audience with the beauty of dance and movement. Aside from enjoying performances by the students, the teachers (Yukichi Hattori, Galien Johnston-Hattori, and Tara Williamson-Campbell), dancers from the Alberta Ballet and others, a portion of the proceeds go towards Pancreatic Cancer Canada. Tickets are still available so click here for more details.

COME JOIN ME (and celebrate the start of a new chapter for these three amazing human beings and artists)!!

To check out images from my recent visit to the Hattori/Williamson School of Ballet "Adult Class", you can visit my social media using the icons at the top of the page or you can check out the gallery below.

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