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Russian ballerina shares art with Hagerstown

October 21, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Walking among the high and low legs lifted on the South Hagerstown High School stage Monday, Moscow Ballet ballerina Svetlana Todinova, leading a group of about 40 teenagers, pushed backs straight, lifted chins and lined up elbows.

Speaking in a thick Russian accent, Todinova guided the mixed group, made up of leotard-clad Ballet and All that Jazz dancers and T-shirt-wearing members of one of South High's beginning dance classes, through basic bar exercises, spinning them through plis and relevs, and back through them again.

"Good for you," Todinova told students who smoothly followed her instructions.

Ballet and All that Jazz Director Ranelle Flurie, who also is a childrens' rehearsal mistress for the Moscow Ballet, helped coordinate Todinova's visit. She brought a handful of her teenaged dancers to South High to help Todinova demonstrate for South High dance teacher Toby Towson's class what a ballet class looks like.

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"It's important for their growth in the fine arts to learn to appreciate the art of ballet," she said. "Most of the kids despise ballet, but they need to understand that ballet is the foundation - that's where your jazz and hip-hop, the stuff the kids like, stems from."

The students scattered themselves across the dimly lit auditorium stage holding onto the backs of chairs for balance. Two South High classes, a photography class and a life skills class sat in the audience watching. Some took pictures.

Todinova lifted her foot briskly to an upward stretched hand with ease, telling the students that during that movement, they only should feel their feet, which must always stay curled.

Some of Towson's students wiped their hands over their faces in frustration, some giggled and others listened intently. Most of Flurie's students stood listening, their faces expressionless, their hands poised just below their waists.

Towson said almost all of his students did a good job following Todinova's lead.

Freshman Tony Socks, 16, said he thought he kept up pretty well with the 15-year ballet veteran.

"That stuff's hard," he said. "Pointing your toes - that cramped my leg. I don't see how people can do it. It takes a lot of dedication."

Freshman Nicole Custead, 14, who has tap-danced, said the 90-degree lift, which Todinova asked the students to make, was hard for her.

"I guess it showed me how much I needed to learn," she said.

Laura Farnen, 14, who was among Flurie's group of dancers, said the lesson, which matched the talents of her classmates against those at the high school, opened her eyes, as well.

"It really makes you appreciate how difficult most of it is," she said.

Flurie said Todinova's class, which was taught more to Towson's students' beginning level, was beneficial for her advanced students.

"A lot of times when we get to a certain level, we forget about the basics," she said. "This was a great class for them."

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