Interview with the Director of the American Ballet Theatre Children’s Division at Mason Gross

ABT Pam Levy

So what is the big deal about ABT Certified Ballet instruction at Mason Gross Extension Division? Below is a Q&A with Pamela Levy, Mason Gross Extension Division Director of Ballet and Certified American Ballet Theatre Instructor. ABT student parent, Christine Bodwitch, created the following questions about the program. Ms. Levy’s answers are insightful for newcomers and current program participants alike.


What does this ballet program offer that other studio ballet classes don’t offer?

This ballet program is one of the few ABT Certified Schools in the country. This means that not only do we teach ABT's National Training Curriculum and participate in ABT Exams every year, but we also maintain a direct connection with ABT, enabling students to be part of several ABT events. For example, last year our students had two opportunities to perform in NY with ABT's Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis school students, once at Carnegie Hall, and the other time in their Spring Performance. We anticipate new and exciting opportunities to continue.

Because our classes are held on campus in the studios of Mason Gross School of the Arts, our students have access to the rich cultural world of a high calibre conservatory. Our students get to witness first hand pre‐professional dancers (as well as other artists) pursuing their studies. Additionally, our students are exposed to the Extension Division's vibrant community of students and teachers in all of the artistic disciplines.

Between ABT, Mason Gross School of the Arts and the Extension Division, our students not only receive excellent dance training, but they learn how their dance studies are part of a larger community beyond their individual dance classes.


How does the program go beyond just teaching steps and technique? Or what else will they learn besides technique and ballet steps?

ABT's National Training Curriculum encompasses the main schools of Ballet: Russian, French, and Italian. As students progress through the levels, they accumulate knowledge not only of technique and ballet steps, but the meaning of the vocabulary, the history of ballet, classroom etiquette, and the reasons behind the steps they are learning. Since the Curriculum is built upon a measured progression, students gain a deep understanding and mastery of foundational steps, alignment, strength and placement.


Why is the creative component of the class important to my child’s developmental growth?

ABT Pam LevyAll dancers, whether they are elite professionals, or small children, must possess imagination in order to communicate with their audience and with each other. Young children are naturally imaginative and connect the immediacy of movement and sensory experiences with verbal communication. Thus, by embodying conceptual ideas put forth in a creative movement experience, students are strengthening their literacy and communication skills. As developing artists, their performing and imaginary skills are being nurtured. These skills are not only vital to dance, but to all components of a child's successful education. Not only is creativity important to developmental growth, but it is a joyful element of dancing!


I believe a child’s emotional intelligence – how to communicate with others in a healthy way and express their own ideas and feelings is very important. Can this program enhance emotional intelligence?

Dance, like all art forms, is first and foremost about communication. It is communication through movement. Starting in our Pre‐Primary level we encourage our young dancers to be expressive in their dancing. It is a very important component of ABT's curriculum. As dancers progress through the levels, this element of communication is not only encouraged during creative dance exercises, but also through every exercise at the barre and center.

Because the dance class is essentially a social environment where students are continuously interacting with each other and their teachers, there is a natural fostering of communication skills and emotional intelligence. Throughout a ballet class the group dynamic encourages communication as students must continuously gauge themselves in relation to other students, to the teacher, and to the group as a whole.


I know that ballet can be very hard on one’s body, how do I know that my child will be using her body in a safe way?

ABT's National Training Curriculum was created with the help of an extensive Medical Advisory Board consisting of medical professionals in the fields of sports medicine, nutrition, physical therapy, and orthopedics. All of our teachers are certified in the Curriculum, therefore they have extensive knowledge of how to train dancers to use their bodies correctly, as well as anatomy and proper alignment. A child's safety and wellbeing is the most important aspect of our teaching.


What skills will my child learn that go beyond just learning how to dance?

Beyond learning how to dance, children gain emotional, social, cognitive and physical skills when they study ballet in our program. Emotionally, children studying dance have an outlet for their feelings, and learn how to express themselves through movement. Socially, the dance classroom is an ideal place for children to learn about relating to each other, to the group as a whole, and to the teacher. Cognitively, children develop connections between an idea or problem, and the process to finding a positive outcome or solution through dance class exercises and practice. Physically, children studying dance are remaining active.Through dance training they gain an appreciation for their bodies as an instrument of expression, and become more coordinated, physically fit, strong and flexible, while enjoying the process.

Posted January 2014