Updated: Jan 11
Bombay Ballet Company students get selected for the prestigious Summer Intensive Program at Kirov Academy, Washington
While the pandemic might have turned our worlds upside-down, it has opened up a new window of opportunity for dance lovers to pursue their passion through online classes and internationally accredited programs from the comfort of their homes. Dhvani Patel (13) and Aditi Kunder (13) are two such aspiring talents of The Bombay Ballet Company, who against all odds, successfully completed the prestigious Summer Intensive Program by the Kirov Academy, Washington through rigorous online night classes.
The Kirov Academy of Ballet (KAB) of Washington DC is a private school and non-profit organization which provides a fully comprehensive accredited ballet program incorporating classical ballet, classical music, and academics for middle and high school students. It was the first dance school outside Russia to officially be given the name “Kirov”.
In the light of the pandemic, its first-of-a-kind virtual program in ballet saw students from different time zones auditioning for a seat to train under some of the finest instructors from across the world. So, let’s find out how Dhvani and Aditi achieved this huge feat and what it could mean for several other talented dancers like them.
What motivated you to learn ballet?
Dhvani: I started dancing when I was three and when I turned five, I was introduced to ballet. In the beginning I was still clueless about the dance form and it was only after I kept dancing that I developed a deep love for it and decided to make ballet my career. My mum is a dancer herself and always encourages me to keep dancing. Ballet is not so easy to like when you begin training because a lot of time is spent exercising and strengthening your muscles but eventually it becomes a part of you.
Aditi: Since a very young age my mom has always believed in my artistic abilities and she was the one who enrolled me for an activity-based class when I was five, which is when I started learning ballet. As I continued dancing, I realized how fond I grew of ballet and now I know this is the only career path I want to follow.
Tell us about the Summer Intensive Program at the Kirov Academy of Washington attended online and how coped with the night classes and your own school work?
Dhvani: To be selected for this program at the Kirov Academy we had to give zoom auditions where our potential and caliber would be assessed. For this we trained online regularly under our Bombay Ballet Company teacher Chiiho Sano who prepped us up for the auditions and also readied us for the challenges we could face if we got accepted into the program. There were other international students along with us from USA, Singapore and even Japan. The five-week long sessions were conducted over zoom meets. We had to dedicate 22 hours a week which included five hours of dancing daily along with theory classes that covered ballet music, injury prevention, nutrition, life skills and career prepping. The classes would begin at 7:30 pm and end at 1:30am and we had to take special permission from our school to exempt us from a few classes as we wouldn’t be able to wake up and attend school classes too.
Aditi: Though I was also exempted from school lectures I had to sit for a few exams during the first few weeks of the program. So once the ballet sessions ended at 1:30am, I would freshen up and start revising my lessons. I would be up till 3am or even later, unable to fall sleep due to an increased metabolism post training. I found it extremely difficult to wake up for the examinations but I saw it as part of the challenge. Dhvani and I often stayed up post class discussing the corrections we received from the instructors during class as neither of us would be able to sleep immediately post our ballet training.
Besides the five-hour training sessions did you have to put in extra hours of practice?
Dhvani- We have to be technically correct while practicing otherwise putting in an extra number of hours doesn’t help us improve, especially without a teacher which could increase one’s chances of getting injured. Hence, it made sense to practise for not more than an hour and a half, all the while ensuring technically correct movements as per the corrections received from our instructors.
Aditi: You often run the risk of developing wrong muscle memory, if you try to overdo a certain move. So yes, it’s not the number of hours of practice that matters but the quality of your practice because it becomes very difficult to unlearn a wrong muscle memory.
Did the Kirov Program always have the option to attend online classes or was it the result of the pandemic?
Dhvani and Aditi: Up until 2020 when the pandemic hit, classes were conducted offline or in-studio. It was only because of the pandemic that we got an opportunity to attend the classes from our homes. In fact, there were other academies that offered online auditions but made it obligatory to attend the physical classes unlike the Kirov Academy which provided for this unique opportunity. We were fortunate to get selected for the summer intensive program and avail of their virtual classes from our homes.
Can you share some tips and alternative tools or techniques students taking online ballet lessons can use to improve their dance?
Aditi: If you are taking online ballet lessons, it may require some getting used to when dancing in your point-shoes on a marble or a tiled floor at home, so take your time here. It’s great to practise in front of a mirror which may be readily available at a studio but at home you always have the option to record yourself or connect your laptop screen to a TV during zoom sessions to see your movements. A good alternative to the bar in a studio could be a chair or a counter top, I prefer a sturdy chair.
How does ballet fit in your future career plans?
Dhvani: I intend to perform for a long time and then I would like to teach this dance form. A dancing career is different from mainstream careers and it begins way earlier in life. After years of practice which may begin from a tender age of five or six, you can join a dance company, perform and travel extensively once you turn nineteen and continue for another fifteen years or so. After this you can start training and become an instructor.
Aditi: It is the same for me. I would also like to begin a career in ballet and give numerous public performances and then ultimately, I would like to start teaching ballet.
Do you think Ballet has helped you grow as a person?
Dhvani: Ballet is a part of me now because I do it so much. It has made me more disciplined and has improved my fitness and physical strength tremendously.
Aditi: Ballet has built me up as a person because it teaches you how to take care of yourself; how to be disciplined, how to behave around others, how to be independent and not rely on others. Say, for example, you are performing abroad you may find yourself in a position where you have to stitch your own point shoes. So, it has definitely helped me grow as a person.
Once you finished the five-week program, was it difficult to bounce back to the regular school routine and academics?
Aditi: Yes, it was difficult but we managed. I had to work on my assignments after the program but the teachers at school were understanding and gave us time to complete them.
We asked the mothers how they felt about the girls attending the Academy’s Summer Intensive Program. Here’s what they had to say…
Swara (Dhvani’s Mom)- These were difficult decisions to make but the ballet teacher from the Bombay Ballet Company explained to us how important it was for them to get into the program as it would be a test in itself for them to determine if they were really cut out for ballet. It was an opportunity for the girls to know their own standing amongst their dance peers from different parts of the world in a high-intensive summer program like the one Kirov Academy offered. So, we decided to let them do it. We on our part would try and encourage them and even adjusted meal plans best suited to their timings and changing body clocks.
Bindu (Aditi’s Mom) The first big step was deciding whether our kids would be able to do the summer intensive program what with the odd hours and dedication an international program of this nature demanded. We finally took the leap and kept a positive attitude and I’m glad we did because the girls surprised us by their dedication and seriousness and how well they took over and managed school work and dance. It was a very challenging program but they had each other’s back and gave it their 100%.
“Where there is a will, there is a way, and Dhvani and Aditi are beautiful examples of this. Despite all the odds and challenges presented by the pandemic, they continued their training even when the classes moved online. Not only this, they grabbed the opportunity at the Kirov Academy even if it meant dancing at odd hours of the night, adjusting to a whole new sleep pattern or even juggling school work and exams. They overcame it all and we truly wish both these budding stars a bright future ahead.”
- Deepika Ravindran, Founder and ballet Instructor at The Bombay Ballet Company
Written by - Naressa Coutinho