Spotlight on Alyssa Pettingill
Ballet dancers have a new opportunity this year through the teaching of Alyssa Pettingill at her Aspire community studio on River Road in Essex Junction. Pettingill has partnered with the Essex Junction Parks and Recreation department to offer students two 10-week programs of classical ballet. Pettingill will teach all of the ballet classes, ranging from Ballet II to Intermediate Adult Ballet.
The 10-week sessions range from $135 to $160 and began on June 16. Fall classes will begin in September. Pettingill is establishing these classes under her new school — Élan Academy of Classical Ballet.
Pettingill, originally of Dover, N.H., attended the University of New Hampshire where her father was a theater professor. She graduated UNH with a BA in Theater and Dance in 1993, and has logged decades of professional dance experience.
In 2009, Pettingill, her husband James, son Davin, and daughters Anniella and Siobhan, moved to Essex Junction. “We really love the wonderful community and beauty of the area,” she said in a recent interview.
Before this summer, Pettingill taught classical ballet, pointe, jazz and tap in several studios in Massachusetts, for the Movement Center in Williston and Colchester, and for the Richmond Dance Studio.
She recently elaborated on her personal experience as a dancer and professional experience as a ballet instructor.
Q: Where and when did you learn ballet?
A: I began my classical ballet training in 1978 with Larry and Colleen Robertson in Lee, N.H. They had both danced for the San Diego Ballet and the Houston Ballet, and Larry was a soloist with the Boston Ballet before coming to UNH to run the Ballet program at the University. I was one of their original students when they started their own school in NH.
I spent summers in intensive training at Boston Ballet, studied with Richard Rein at Portland Ballet, and performed with the Robertson’s company, SeaCoast Ballet Company, for six years. Through SeaCoast Ballet Company I had many opportunities to perform classical repertoire, such as Snow Queen and Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker, Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty, Hermia in A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream, The Can Can Doll in La Boutique Fantasque, Les Sylphides, Pas de Quatre, as well as original works.
After graduating high school I had a full scholarship to the Milwaukee Ballet, and that summer was accepted on full scholarship for the 1988-1989 season with a traineeship to the Pennsylvania/Milwaukee Ballet under the direction of Robert Weiss. I performed over 30 Nutcrackers and many outreach performances, but the eventual dissolve of the Pennsylvania/Milwaukee Ballet and an injury that kept me off pointe for a time led me to acquire work in summer stock theater performing in musicals.
I decided to attend UNH to get my BA and round out my opportunities as a performer by studying jazz, tap and all aspects of theatrical performance. By my senior year I had been awarded the Gary O’Neil “Triple Threat” scholarship for musical theatre.
Q: When did you begin teaching? Why types of dance do you teach?
A: I actually started teaching when I was still in college, at Dover Center for the Arts. I moved to Massachusetts and didn’t return to teaching until my early 30s when my first child was one-year-old. I taught ballet and pointe primarily, but also jazz and tap for many years at Gotta Dance in Billerica, Mass., and Centerstage Dance Academy in Tyngsborough, Mass. I taught for the Movement Center (formerly in Williston) and in Colchester from 2010 until this past June, and for Richmond Dance Studio when it first opened.
Q: What ages do you teach?
A: Every age. I teach the very youngest dancers from age 3 through adult, and thoroughly enjoy every age group.
Q: Is this the first season you’ve offered ballet through ERJP?
A: I taught Ballet Fitness at Aspire last school year, but this is my first year starting my own school, Élan Academy of Classical Ballet through Aspire.
Q: Where else do you teach?
A: This is it. The perfect opportunity to collaborate with EJRP to develop my own academy, and I am devoted to it solely. I am tremendously excited to offer a comprehensive classical ballet program, and wonderful performance opportunities for all of my students.
Q: What is the most challenging aspect of learning ballet?
A: I suppose that depends on the student. For some it might be the discipline required, for some the repetition, for others it may be the physical demands such as flexibility and turning out the leg from the hip throughout all movement. Some may be gifted physically and struggle with picking up combinations or the necessity of multi-tasking so many muscles at once, but it is a wonderful process for all, and every single challenge can be mastered with practice and devotion. I truly believe there is nothing which builds self-confidence as much as overcoming a physical challenge and creating a beautiful way to express oneself.
Q: Why do you enjoy teaching ballet?
A: I have a passion for the art form, for music, and unending gratitude for the caliber of my own training, which I feel utterly compelled to share with future generations. Every aspect of technique, musicality, expression and story telling is incredibly important to me and to see others becoming equally inspired is immensely gratifying.
To see dancers improve, to see things “click” for them, but mostly to see them shine from within when performing is an amazing gift. To see them bring my choreography to life on stage, to give something artistically and watch others run with it, it’s more than satisfying, it’s knowing I am doing what I was meant to do.
Q: Are you working on a performance?
A: I am choreographing the second act of The Nutcracker, Clara’s Dream, for our first performances the weekend of Dec. 6 and 7 at Essex High School. Auditions for Élan Ballet Theatre are open to all Élan students taking two or more classes per week, and will be held Sept. 6 from 2-4:30 p.m. at Aspire in Essex Junction.— Elsie Lynn
Editor’s Note: To learn more about the Élan Academy of Classical Ballet visit: www.facebook.com/elanacademyofclassicalballet.