A Sit Down with Madame Olga

“Adult students should be taken as seriously as anyone”

Most Saturdays post Corona have become a new routine consisting of two cups of tea before the day starts followed by one of many amazing virtual ballet classes with the best the ballet world can offer. I have taken every chance to train with the best. Most days I find it hard to decide. Do I want a taste of ABT? A taste of Balanchine? The decision is daunting. That is until my first plié with Madame Olga. She had me at “one,” her hilarious shrill and signal that class had begun, and has had me ever since.

Amid her tough love approach to teaching, lies a kind and sensitive lady that just wants her students to believe in themselves and be the best they can be. In one breath she will say you are lazy and in the next she has you repeating a daily affirmation. Anything from “I am free to I choose freedom.” Her hysterical comparison of an American’s turn out to a Russian’s will have you crying with laughter mid barre. Some days she will sing you a song at the end of class and if you don’t already know, Madame Olga is a triple threat.

But who is Madame Olga? She is the alter ego of Michael Cusamano, native New Yorker and former dancer with American Ballet Theatre. His professional life has extended beyond ballet including spending six years on Broadway in the musical Chicago as well as teaching. He teaches both as himself and Madame Oga all over New York. In his own words, “Madame Olga has been inside Michael since he was a kid. She was just always there.” The following is our recent sit down with his alter ego.

What is the secret to success for all ballet students?

The secret to success is you have to be resilient and never give up. You have to really love what you do or you can’t sustain the career.

What do you expect from your students?

I expect my students to stay open to different ways of learning, be kind in the world, and absorb as much as they can from all of their teachers. 

How do your students in America compare to your students in Russia?

My students in America and Russia are honestly very similar. I believe we connect on an energetic level and it just becomes an exchange of knowledge and love.

How do you encourage those that may never dance the role of Odette or Siegfried with a major company?

Most of us won’t dance the lead in Swan Lake and that’s okay. But you can dream as big as you want and dance it in your own world and that is just as beautiful. 

What advice would you give to an adult beginning ballet for the first time-someone that is maybe afraid of taking the first steps to join a class?

My advice is it’s normal to be afraid and have fear, but you have to do it. You literally have to just make yourself do it. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain in your life.

Should adult ballet students be taken as seriously as any other ballet student?

Yes adult students should be taken as seriously as anyone. The reason is because ballet is bigger than just dancing. It’s creativity and connection that shapes and enhances your life in a beautiful way in general. That is what makes a difference.

Thank you Madame Olga. Your kindness has inspired many of us during these challenging times. You have brought me back to my first love and given me hope when some days it feels there is little. I know I can speak on behalf of all your students when I channel you and utter your own words, “we love you.” We all look forward to your documentary and meeting you in person on November 15th.

Don’t miss our Adult Ballet Master Class with Madame Olga live via Zoom three weeks from today. Booking and info….

Until Our Next Plié ❤

A Sit Down with Josephine Lee

Photo Jazley Faith

Pointe work in ballet needs to be a more holistic approach

Amid a state of emergency in California, I had the chance to sit down and chat with pointe shoe guru, Josephine Lee from the Pointe Shop. She was forced to stay inside due to the raging wildfires and poor air quality that is plaguing her home state.

Josephine was born in South Korea and grew up in southern California. She danced for years as a child and then went off to college to study communication before returning to the dance world.

Who is the lady behind The Pointe Shop?

My mom was a pointe shoe fitter so not only did I dance as a child, but learned fitting from my mom. I started fitting when I was 14. After college, I opened a brick and mortar dance shop called The Dancer’s Choice. In 2014, I opened The Pointe Shop, my mobile shop.

What has your experience been fitting adult ballet students compared to younger students?

I love fitting adult ballet students. They are my favorite! They are so passionate. Their feet are as diverse as the children we fit. Adult students’ bodies are stronger, more set, and physically more stable than children getting fitted. While their feet are harder to mold, they can be molded and reshaped.

Are you seeing an increase in adult ballet students getting fitted?

Yes, definitely in the last 10 years. It has even become more acceptable in my native Korea where it used to be that dance was only for those training to be professionals. Recreational dance was such a revolutionary idea.

Are there any circumstances other than obvious injury, that you would not recommend or put an adult dancer in pointe shoes?

Yes, definitely. For example, those that come with injuries that they maybe did not even know they had. I trust a teacher’s discretion when it comes to pointe readiness, but they might need a physician referral from me instead of a pair of pointe shoes. It is definitely safer to fit an adult because they are stronger and more stable.

What are some tips you would give an adult student that is about to fitted for the very first time?

They need to be technically sound-taking at least 3-4 classes per week. The time period to achieve pointe for adults is a lot shorter than children, but they still have to be technically strong first. They also need to be stronger in other areas. Pointe is not just about the strength of the ankles and feet. They also have to have a strong core, back, arms. Just taking ballet class is not enough.

Any words of encouragement for those intimidated by the fitting process? Those fearful of not being taken seriously?

I see this all the time-adults that come in poorly fitted because the time was not taken to get a proper fitting. My advice is be vocal. Speak up when something does not feel right. Do a lot of research before going in to get fitted. Take your time.

Anything you would like to add?

Pointe work in ballet needs to be a more holistic approach. It is important to rest, sleep, eat well, and give time for recovery when needed. Everything accumulates, injuries don’t happen over night. Most injuries build up over time. Treat your body with more maintenance in mind rather than going through the motions.

Thank you so much Josephine for taking the time to chat and give the adult dance world the time and insight needed. We hope you and your loved ones stay safe from the fires.

Until our next plié ❤

Dancing Amid a Pandemic

“We are in this together and will get through this together”

As the numbers of Corona Virus continue to rise while many of us slowly return to class, I wanted to take a moment to share my thoughts on getting through this together.  I am not just an adult ballet teacher/dancer, I am also a Registered Nurse.  While I no longer work in bedside nursing, the Nightingale Pledge I took to promote public health and safety as a new nurse almost twenty years ago sits in every fiber of my being to this day.  The well being of my ballet students for me goes far beyond dancing safely and mindfully, but that they are mentally well too.  I try to teach and live by example, so what I teach them I try to teach to myself as well.  So how can we as dancers stay safe, happy, and healthy amid this pandemic?  Here are just a few thoughts.

Wash Your Hands

It sounds like common sense right, but did you know that, Corona aside, over a million lives could be saved worldwide each year with proper hand washing?  Nurse Florence Nightingale changed the course of history during the Crimean War when she saved thousands of lives by teaching hand washing-yet to this day, people are still dying because this basic skill is neglected.  That’s how important hand washing is.  It is key to the prevention of the spread of disease.

Wear a Mask

Wearing a mask is a proven way to safely lower the spread of Corona Virus.  Bloch has the best breathable masks I and many of my students have been using since we started meeting for in person classes.  Take regular mask breaks during class meaning when you grab a sip of water, find an open window where you can safely lower your mask to get fresh air.

Stay Home if You Are Sick

Stay home at the first sign of illness.  This is a sign your body needs rest.  If you are well enough, join a class online or warm yourselves up and stretch instead.  Whether it’s a headache, mildly sore throat, or just general sense of malaise, stay home.  I know how hard it is to want to get out of the house at every opportunity, but stay home and let your body rest.

Add a Few Things to Your Dance Bag

For those going back to the studio, protect yourselves and others.  Bring a towel to class if you will be stretching on the floor.  Keep your bag stocked with hand gel.  Hand gel before and after barre work.  Don’t forget your mask.  Keep a bag to place your soiled, reusable face masks in when you remove them.

Nourish Your Immune System

There are several things we know about the immune system-how it functions, what happens when it is dampened, and how to optimize it.  Exercise.  Get plenty of sleep.  Eat nourishing foods including plenty of fruits and vegetables.  Breathe and relax.  Start your day with a few moments of deep breathing while lying in bed or sitting on the side of your bed.  A deep breath lowers and stabilizes blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels (stress hormones).  Plan something weekly that relaxes you.

Take Care of Yourselves

I have read many posts in dance groups that so many of you have a hard time with online classes and dancing from home.  It makes me so sad that many have stopped dancing all together.  If you have put dancing on hold since the pandemic, try to find a way to move and breathe whether walking regularly or testing yoga, Pilates, or Progressing Ballet Technique.  Learning to adapt and change with the new world we live in is so challenging, but so important for mental well being.  Walk along the water with a friend or meet friends or family outside to fill your human need for nearness.  Take care of yourselves.

Nourish Your Ballet Soul

Teaching and taking classes during the pandemic have saved me these past many months.  My husband laughs because every free moment I have, I am filling with my favorite ballets, workshops for continuing education, and taking online classes with my favorite teachers.  In no other time in history have we dancers had the opportunity that the internet has given us during Corona times.  On any given day, you can take class with the greatest dancers on the planet.  A side note, while there are lots of amazing free classes online, please donate to the teachers if possible.  So many professionals are out of work and are struggling to make ends meet.

Time will only tell when life as we knew it will be back.  Instead, try to shape a new normal for yourselves.  Think positive and stay positive.  Remember, you are not alone.  Think of your ballet tribe around the world.  We are in this together and will get through this together ❤

Until our next Plié ❤

A Sit Down with Fredrick Davis

Photo Rachel Neville

“Fred is on a journey and he’s going to get there and that’s very beautiful.” Virginia Johnson, Artistic Director, Dance Theatre of Harlem

Having seen the documentary From the Streets to the Stage, the Journey of Fredrick Davis, it is hard to contain the excitement in sitting down with this incredible dancer at the height of his career. One could anticipate that the stardom of having danced as a Principal with the legendary Dance Theatre of Harlem could easily go to one’s head, but this is farthest from the truth with Fred. His hard work and humble beginnings reflect who he is today.

Our conversation began on a Sunday evening, a six hour time difference between New York and Stockholm. Fred, in the middle of a pandemic forced move, was just settling into his new Hamilton Heights apartment in upper Manhattan. He has spent much of his time post Covid lining up teaching gigs and planning future collaborations in Tennessee.

Fredrick, born in Brooklyn, grew up in Chattanooga and returned to his roots as an adult. His early childhood was rife with uncertainty, hunger, and homelessness. He spent much of his childhood on the streets of Chattanooga with his mother. His grandmother took him in and under her wing giving him the home he needed. At the tender age of 11, his life took the change that lead him to where he is today.

How have you been coping during the pandemic?

I have been optimistic by teaching people online ballet classes during the Black Lives Matter protests. Instead of going to protests I have been teaching online classes in Australia, Italy, Chile, Nigeria, Kenya East Africa, London, UK, Greece, Italy, Hawaii and across the United States.

I saw the documentary featuring you. What an inspiring and amazing journey you have been on. It seems that your grandmother was one of the great influences in your life?

She knitted the quilt. She made sure I was making my own choices.

How old were when you knew that you wanted to dance seriously?

8th grade. I had many dreams. I wanted to be a lawyer, businessman, firefighter, wrestler, football player. I coudn’t afford to try out for the football team and the dance auditions were free, so that was where it all started.

Can you see yourself doing something other than dance ever?

I would love to act and model. I am in the process of opening a non-profit dance school and company in Tennessee. My goal is to build a bridge going forward for the African American and underprivileged community in Chattanooga.

What would you say to the dancers that feel like they don’t fit the ballet mold to dance-too tall, too big, too old, not flexible enough?

To quote Stan Lee I would say, “don’t listen to the naysayers.” If you really want to do something, do it. Don’t look for a job or career. Find your purpose in life and goals and go for it. Nothing is ever certain in life. You can can never be ready when the time is right, you can only be ready enough to take the chance. Be the best that you can be.

Thank you Fred for taking the time to share your story and inspire dancers of all walks!! We look forward to following your journey. Join us on September 12th in our first virtual Adult Ballet Master Class with Fredrick. Find out more about Fredrick in the Emmy award winning documentary From the streets to the Stage:the Journey of Fredrick Davis and follow his journey forward via his Instagram.

Until our next plié ❤

What is a Ballet Master Class?

Screenshot_20200515-103137_FacebookWoohoo, Ballet Gothenburg is excited to announce that we are beginning to host Ballet Master Classes JUST for adult dancers!!  Since I started planning and mentioning master classes to my own students, I have had a few questions that I thought would be perfect to answer in a post.

At Ballet Gothenburg, adult ballet students are our passion.  Our mission since inception is to offer inclusive ballet classes for adult beginners and adults coming back to ballet after many years.  From the student trying ballet to stay in shape to the more serious student attending several times a week, we believe ballet is for every age, body, size, gender, and color.  Given the current circumstances and the need to adapt, we will begin hosting our master classes online via Zoom.

What is a ballet master class? 

A ballet master class is a class taught by an individual that has mastered the art of ballet through dancing professionally and/or teaching at the highest levels.  Simply put, it gives students the opportunity to take class with the best of the best in the art of ballet.   Master classes are taught by current professional dancers dancing with top companies worldwide as well as teachers from the best schools.  Taking a master class gives students a taste of the different schools of teaching and flavors of ballet.

Who should take a master class?

Everyone 🙂  Master classes are a way to polish technique, make breakthroughs, learn from different schools of teaching, and above all, have fun!! The best way for students to advance in their journey is to study with various teachers.   Students learn in different ways and different teachers can help along this journey.

Do I need to be an advanced dancer to take a master class?

The simple answer is no.  A master class refers to the teacher who has mastered the craft.  The class is geared toward the level of the students taking the class.  Ballet Gothenburg hosts Beginner/Advanced Beginner master classes for our students.  Students should have a basic understanding of placement, turnout, and port de bras.  In this way, all are welcome and can enjoy the class.

What to Expect in a Master Class?

It depends on the teacher.  The invited master teacher will usually plan a class based on the group of students he or she is teaching.   A master class is similar in structure to other ballet classes. 

How do I prepare?

There is no preparation required.  A master class is meant to be fun-a way to take what you already know and enjoy.  Your only expectation is to show up and have fun!!  Prepare to learn ❤

What Should I Wear?

Wear whatever makes you feel comfortable and represents you as a dancer.  Leotards, tights, yoga pants, skirts, tutus, anything goes 🙂

Where do I Sign Up? 

Check out our Adult Ballet Master Classes page for details and to book.  Each class will be hosted on Zoom.  All you need is a small space in your home.

Please take a moment before the beginning of the class to test the Zoom platform out.  Create a free account on Zoom and explore the platform, do a test meeting with a friend.  The teacher should be able to see you clearly from head to toe.  In addition, you should be able to see the teacher clearly.

Join us for our first of our Ballet Master Classes with the amazing Fredrick Davis, former Principal of Dance Theatre of Harlem.  Learn more about him in the Emmy award winning documentary, From the Streets to the Stage.  

Until our next plié ❤