Alana Neihoff began teaching at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in late June, but she felt “inspired” ahead of time by the message of Marcia Dale Weary, its founding artistic director.
She and her husband, Matthew Donnell, who also recently joined the CPYB faculty, had taken special teacher training at the Carlisle-based school and company years ago when both were studying at the North Carolina School of the Arts (NCSA).
“Marcia never sugarcoated the process, that it is hard work to study ballet,” Neihoff said. “That things don’t come instantaneously, but by doing it day after day.”
Donnell, a former Kansas City Ballet dancer, seconded the thought.
“You can’t learn to write a sentence before you learn the ABCs,” he said. “We teach students to go slow and make it perfect.”
Another reason for their admiration of the school is that “it trains all the way, in one place. I’m happy to be part of that world,” Donnell said.
Even those students who may not end up as professional dancers will learn respect for dance and other arts, the married couple agreed.
Neihoff’s own journey to ballet was circuitous. She grew up as the daughter of a woman who ran a local dance studio and was “really into” jazz and tap.
“My mother took me to ballet classes elsewhere, but we made a deal that I was also to take jazz and tap,” Neihoff said.
She got accepted into the American Ballet Theatre Studio Co., which was her “life’s dream,” she said. However, that dream ended when, during a rehearsal, she was dropped by her partner and shattered a bone in her foot.
“It took years for the foot to heal, and it was severely painful,” she said. “Meanwhile, I couldn’t go en pointe.”
After waiting tables for a year, she took jazz and tap classes again and eventually was accepted into the famous precision dance company, the Rockettes, where she remained for 11 years.
Her experience, she said, can encourage students to have an open outlook, that there may be “many doors open to your studying ballet.”
The hiring of the couple has helped keep CPYB classes small, said CEO Nicholas Ade.
“We have seen tremendous growth in demand for classes in the past few years,” he said. “To maintain the standard CPYB is known for, grow responsibly, and preserve our culture as an organization, we needed to hire not only more teachers, but the right faculty.”
In choosing new faculty, the ballet school looks for people who can “not only teach at a high level, but are invested in making every student a better person,” Ade said.
Neihoff and Donnell, he said, fit those criteria well.
“They go beyond what is simply required of the children and young adults in classical ballet, which fits right in with every one of our faculty and staff,” Ade said. “They’re invested and truly care about these kids and helping them fulfill their potential.”
A school so centered on teaching appealed to the couple.
“Teaching is something you have to love doing,” Donnell said. “Some of us teach what we remember, what we just had in class. But, at CPYB, teachers are taught how to train someone who never saw a ballet shoe before.”
Professional dancers may seem free, but teaching ballet, especially with younger students, means the need for “structure,” said Neihoff. “It’s important that everyone is on the same page.”
Watching students at CPYB made Donnell realize something important.
“I had greater training at NCSA, but if I had to do it all over again, I would have gone to CPYB,” he said. “There’s something special about it.”
A large part of that specialness is Marcia Dale Weary, who founded the school in 1955. Her training is recognized internationally for its trademark clarity of technique and artistic assurance. Since then, more than 21,000 students have trained in its studios.
“She’s a ballet legacy,” Donnell said. “It’s very humbling and can be intimidating. But then you see how humble and giving she is. When someone like that is the head of an organization, you want to be a part of it.”
For more information about Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, visit www.cpyb.org.