In the Moment: An Interview with BalletNova’s Artistic Director Laveen Naidu

Area non-profit arts organizations continually develop fresh ideas to reach children who may not regularly have access to the wonders of the performing arts. One new such effort is by Northern Virginia’s BalletNova’s Center for the Dance located at the cross roads between Arlington, Fairfax and Falls Church.

Photo courtesy of BalletNova.
Photo courtesy of BalletNova.

Recently the Center received a grant from the Virginia Commission on the Arts to bring in teachers from the National Dance Institute (NDI) in New York to share their dance outreach program curriculum for replication in the Northern Virginia area. The nationally recognized NDI children’s dance curriculum was developed by noted dancer Jacques D’Amboise, as a way to introduce children to dance in a fun, energetic, positive, and non-threatening way.

BalletNova is now developing its own local community program to introduce dance to children perhaps less likely to be able to connect with the wonders of dance. The program is called MOVE. It stands for Motivation, Opportunity, Vitality, Empowerment.

According to Caroline Frankil Warren, BalletNova’s Executive Director, “MOVE will use dance as a catalyst to empower children and motivate them towards excellence.The curriculum is brilliant in its simplicity, providing a readily accessible introduction to dance overlaid with energy, vitality, and tremendous positive emotional development for the children.”

In its first year, the MOVE program will aim toward fourth graders.  No previous dance experience will be required  Significantly, there is to be no charge to the students. A key component of MOVE is live accompaniment during classes (piano, or percussion). A Master Teacher and Musician lead every class. A few weeks ago, BalletNova Center for the Dance teachers and musicians received training from NDI and are now ready to pilot the program. BalletNova is currently in the midst of discussions with several local schools to begin working with children to introduce them to the world of movement and dance..

This In the Moment column is based upon a recent interview with Laveen Naidu, Artistic Director of BalletNova. Naidu made his vision for MOVE clear: “We believe access to high quality arts education is integral to every child’s education. Through MOVE we aim to deepen our engagement with our community and expect the program will open new horizons for children and families.”

David Siegel: Why was it important to establish MOVE?

Laveen Naidu: High quality arts education should be integral to every student’s learning. A great many schools don’t have the resources to provide such. Educators know students have different learning styles and tap into “Multiple Intelligences.” If we can connect with students in a variety of ways, they are more likely to know what success feels like. There is no better motivation than being successful or gaining a sense of mastery of something new–it builds our confidence and we are more likely to apply ourselves in other areas.

MOVE also addresses the lack of physical activity among young people by engaging them in fun and imaginative ways. The approach utilizes pedestrian type movements to build complex choreography that keep pace with the students’ ability while promoting a healthy form of self-expression. All classes have live musical accompaniment which makes the experience all the more special. Imagination, innovation, and nuanced non-verbal communication are also important components of the program—all critical 21 century skills.

Last but not least, a program like MOVE builds community and allows people of diverse backgrounds to connect on common ground.  The language of dance crosses many barriers.

How many participants are expected in the first year of the MOVE program?

This school year we aim to work with approximately 60 students in 3-4 local schools. We plan on expanding to serve many more students in coming years.

“Outcomes” results are important. Do have any information for participants in dance programs like MOVE?

We conducted a pilot program this summer. It was an extraordinary experience for the students, almost all of whom had very little or no dance training. Watch them gain greater charge of their bodies and minds each day was inspiring. A few direct comments from parents included: “My daughter is a bit introverted. This program took her out of her shell and gave her confidence. She was incredibly proud of herself. There is no greater joy than seeing a child entering her pre-teen years garner self-esteem and pride in their accomplishments.” And “My son Joseph has never been very confident performing, but he did it with a smile at the performance. My kids were both happy every time I picked them up from class.”

Photo courtesy of BalletNova.
Photo courtesy of BalletNova.

Any closing thoughts?

We at BalletNova are poised to amplify our impact in exciting ways. MOVE will engage our community far beyond the walls of the studios and it will also make what we do in our studios better. Ballet is a living art, I want us to build on the best of our classical tradition through impeccable training in ballet and other dance disciplines while imbuing our work with new influences and ideas.

Note: BalletNova Center for Dance will be having a Fall Fashion Fundraiser for the MOVE program at the Georgetown boutique, LiLi The First – 1419 Wisconsin Avenue NW, in Washington, DC, on Sunday, September 25 from 5 – 7 pm. Illusions of Georgetown is providing hair and make-up services. Admission is complimentary. RSVPs are encouraged by  email.


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