Shelby in Copenhagen

Shelby is a junior President’s Scholar majoring in dance and psychology. In Spring 2009, she is taking classes at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad in affiliation with the University of Copenhagen and also will be taking dance classes at Dansens Hus professional training school.

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Dancing in Denmark

How it all began:

I arrived in Copenhagen in mid-January and began taking ballet classes at Dansens Hus a few mornings each week with my academic classes. Every ballet (and modern, though I predominantly attend ballet classes) there has been absolutely wonderful.

Dansens Hus is a professional training school; the dancers in attendance are students (aspiring professional dancers or teachers), working professionals or retired professionals. Every week or two, a new teacher with professional work experience teaches class. Three notable teachers I have taken class with are Martin James, Niels Kehlet and Eric Viudes.

Martin James taught two weeks of the best classes I’ve taken in a long time! His classes yielded an average of 24 to 33 students each day, including almost the entire company from the Danish Dance Theatre. Even with the large attendance, Martin’s time-management skills were amazing. Each dancer received a full class from start to finish.

I spoke to Martin after class a few times, introducing myself fully the last day (it’s hard when there are so many excited students in class and you are short on time!). He is a former professional dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet who is now happily pursuing his passion as a freelance teacher. I would highly recommend his classes if ever we were looking for an international guest teacher.

A new friend and mentor

Eric Viudes was my most recent teacher, and we really connected in the time he taught. After my first class with Eric, I went up and introduced myself. We spoke for a few minutes: he is a former principal dancer from Norwegian National Ballet who is also working now as a freelance teacher in France and Scandinavia. As luck would have it, we also ran into each other leaving Dansens Hus after class, and then again at the bus stop to go into the city center. Eric and I sat on the bus (I actually missed my stop) and talked for a good amount of time.

I took class again that Friday. There were only six dancers in class because there was an audition for a modern company in Olso. By the end of class, there were only three of us “still standing” (there were a few older dancers in attendance), so I got a lot of personal attention. This was a wonderful opportunity to learn and improve, for which I am incredibly grateful.

Again we met at the bus stop. That day, the buses on our route were not running for some mysterious reason. (I’m sure it wouldn’t be so mysterious if my Danish reading skills were a bit better, but alas, they leave some room for improvement). It actually turned out to be a great experience. Eric and I ended up walking into town together, talking about a range of things including dance, politics, weather – clearly topics of varying depths.

I took class from him the following week as well. We rode the bus together again that Tuesday. Wednesday, I spoke after class to Eric about areas in which I could improve technically. He gave me some corrections and advice, which I value and am working on. I had the whole day off so I stayed after class to stretch and talk to my new friend, Adrian. He is a Danish dancer who will be traveling to London to train next year.

Friday, Eric’s last day, was a fabulous class. Afterwards, I thanked him. He asked me to stay – he said he had something to give me. I agreed, and waited upstairs in the studio for him to get his stuff together. Some 20 minutes later, he was finally ready. We walked toward the bus, and he told me he had a brochure and a gift for me.

He handed me a brochure for a six-day summer program called “Bournonville in Biarritz” (France) that he is coordinating. The program looks absolutely amazing – the instructors include incredibly noteworthy members of the Royal Danish Ballet and the Danish dance scene! Eric told me that he could help me get a grant to attend the program if I was interested (I AM!), and asked me to share additional brochures with my friends. I mailed a few brochures to SMU for the Dance Dept!

Eric also gave me a gift of two ballet class CDs. He created the class structure and advised the musicians in the creation of the CDs, and is actually pictured on the front of one of them. I gave him a pair of red Meadows socks. (We laughed because we both had the same idea of exchanging gifts). We also exchanged email addresses. I need to email him soon …

At the Dansens Hus, I have also met a few very neat people and very talented dancers, including a girl from UC Berkley and a girl from London. Jennifer, the dancer from London, is actually performing in the Ny Dansk Teater performance of Phantom of the Opera as Meg. We exchanged phone numbers with the intention of getting together to have coffee. I promised to call her when I come to see her perform as well.

The only downfall to Dansens Hus is that it takes me a good 45 minutes to get to class from my kollegium, and then variable amounts of time to get from dance to school (15-20 min) or my practicum site (1 hour). The additional “travel time” coupled with my academic requirements have severely limited my morning dance opportunities, which is very unfortunate considering the vast number of morning classes offered here. Thus began my quest for additional classes at additional studios.

The Danish dance scene

At first, it was difficult to figure out the Danish dance scene, largely due to two things: the language barrier and the public transportation system. I collected (and still do) brochures at every dance venue I visited: the local dance supply store on Norregade, Dansens Hus, performances, etc. I emailed a few studio contacts, sheepishly asked my Danish-speaking friends to translate fliers for me, and eventually found the studio Sceneindgangen.

Sceneindgangen is a fairly small, privately owned studio space in Norrebro. The faculty is wonderful. They are also either working or former professional dancers, and have a rich knowledge of the Danish dance scene. My ballet instructor, Claude Lammen, is a member of a Danish company called Pantomime. Jenny Major, the modern and jazz instructor, trained for a semester at the Martha Graham School. She is also familiar with Limon and Horton techniques, and uses them as a foundation from which she derives her own stylistic choices.

I love attending her classes, and believe she is a good source from which to grow artistically. The emotion and passion she infuses in her dancing is inspiring. I have also befriended Martin Svaneborg, a former musical theatre artist who teaches tap, musical theatre, and jazz. I have yet to take class from him, but we talk often because he has a rich knowledge of the dance scene and I expressed my interest in pursuing a professional career in Europe. He advised me to look into the Danish Dance Theater as a potential company because they hire strong international dancers and are currently under the direction of Tim Rushton from London. I hope to attend a performance and to try to sit in on rehearsals or class before I leave.

Martin also invited me to attend a modern performance with him because he had an extra ticket, but unfortunately I am out of town. If I were in town, I would be there in a heartbeat! Martin is currently working on a new musical that will premier in London within the next year. Before I left for my travel break, he asked me if I would be in town in late May to perform with the studio in a spring recital of sorts and hinted about my participation in his new musical project. There is talk of a demonstration of a portion of the show in London in either late May or September.

I can’t begin to express how excited I am about even the prospect of this opportunity! If there is any possible way that I can change my flight home to accommodate this chance, I will take it in a heartbeat! Something to look into …

New opportunities

Another thing I would love to do, though it’s more unlikely than not, would be to audition for and dance at Tivoli this summer. Tivoli is an old Danish amusement park and garden, and I hear it is absolutely gorgeous in the summer!

There are so many possibilities and so many potential opportunities surfacing! I just finished the first week of my travel break, and have two more to go. As fun and exciting as it is, I cannot wait to return to Denmark to see what opportunities are in store!

I return to Copenhagen the morning of April 10. The evening of April 10 and 11, there is a competition and showcase called Cross Connection Ballet near the Royal Theatre. It features prominent European companies, including Danish Dance Theatre and Bejart. I have every intention of going, and as soon as I get the internet access to send this note, I will be purchasing tickets!

* A note on painting:

On the Friday there were only six of us in class, a student from a Danish school of architecture watched class. His school is working on a new artistic project at the King’s Garden that is inspired by different styles of dance and movement. He invited me to participate, which would involve putting on socks and performing various dance steps with paint on my feet! As many of you know, that is one of my favorite ideas (Comp. 2)!

Unfortunately, I had a midterm after ballet that day. I still regret not participating in the project, knowing my feet could have been a part of the King’s Garden! This is one of the few times in my life I wish I wasn’t so academically motivated.

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