With a look at how COVID19 is reshaping the dance world, we spoke with Francis Veyette and Lauren Fadeley Veyette of Veyette Virtual Ballet School about why they started teaching in the digital world two years ago, and how it can change the future of dance.
WM: Why and when did you start Veyette Virtual Ballet School?
VVBS: We started VVBS in 2018 as an attempt to help bring world-class ballet training to anyone, anywhere. We were approached by a family in Kansas that were looking for some help on their daughter‘s scores at a ballet competition. We thought if they just wanted us to coach her on her variations we could absolutely do that, or we could actually work on her technique from the ground up. We explained that if we taught her properly and fixed some flaws in her training, her variations would naturally get better and her scores would improve. As we say at VVBS; “Real technique is like water. It fits into whatever container you put it in!” They agreed with us and had used Skype previously for some CrossFit sessions and thought we could do the same with our ballet private instruction. The first lesson was so successful that we thought we could reach a broader audience of dancers that were struggling to find good ballet training because of their accessibility, and thus VVBS was born!
WM: Did you see this as the studio of the future?
VVBS:Yes and no. We never intended this to replace a physical studio. Just like students who have a tutor still go to school, VVBS was meant to be an addition to your everyday training. We think of ourselves as are your private ballet tutor that helps work on your technique and artistry that might be lacking or having a difficult time achieving in your everyday group classes. We have had students request to train with us exclusively and we advised them against it. Training in a studio with other dancers is necessary if you want to be a professional dancer and we will all get back to it one day. But for now with everything going on, people are seeing the virtual space for what it is; a place to continue to make progress. A place to be seen and corrected. A place to continue to have a community. We are grateful that the global dance expression we helped initiate is now being seen for its full value.
WM: People are seeing the value now, but how about two years ago?
VVBS: When we first started and shared of the virtual voice we were creating in dance, people definitely thought we were a little crazy! The ballet world is a little old fashioned and very steeped in tradition. Though we appreciate it, sometimes that makes it a little slow where progress is concerned. There were a lot of people that nodded and snickered when we told them what we were up to. They didn’t really think you could make a difference on a computer screen from another state or country. That’s okay and we understood, but knew we were genuinely making a difference in dancers lives. Traditionally you had to be in the same room in order to correct a student and physically manipulate them. As we are across the country half the time, we have to find other ways to affect a change in a student.
WM: Do you find it difficult? Getting a student to change while being unable to touch them?
VVBS: It’s challenging but definitely possible. It can take a little longer sometimes, but we find it to be very effective. When you manipulate them physically, they feel it. That’s important because dance is a physical art form. But, when you describe it in a way that makes them understand it on their own, that is also important. When we were growing up as dancers, we had many older teachers that would just sit in the front of the room and only verbally give combinations and corrections. But because they were great teachers without having to physically show things, we were still able to learn so much from them. We try to help our students have a deeper understanding of technique in their own bodies. It’s not just “do this, but “here’s why and how.” The student can then take that knowledge into their other classes and see the improvement. And, since we are talking about going into another teachers class, we try very hard to not make stylistic adjustments. We have a certain style we personally dance and prefer to teach, but we see students from all types of training and try to help them understand the fundamentals of technique. “These are the muscles that rotate the leg” not “this is the only acceptable version of fourth position before a pirouette.” We know these students have other teachers and we respect their style of training.
WM: Have you met some resistance from other studios?
VVBS: We think right now studios are probably a little worried about losing their students because the whole dance world is wondering what’s going to become of it. And a lot of schools are in trouble because they are lacking students even if they are offering virtual options. We want to assure everyone that we are not seeking your students. Again, we never intended VVBS to be a replacement for a studio. We have a few partner studios we work with and most of our students work with us with full knowledge of their home studios. We have never seen ourselves as competition for a studio. Instead we want them to consider us more as a guest teacher you can bring in for your students, but cheaper and easier with no flights of hotels to deal with.
WM: What do you see for the future and how can someone contact VVBS?
VVBS: We are so proud of how our students and business has grown since our inception. It’s the most amazing feeling when you see something you’ve been working on click in a dancer, and they never go back to where they were. The confidence that our students have gained in our lessons that they are then able to carry into the studio and stage has been so rewarding. Our goal has always been not just to help create strong bodies, but healthy minds as well. We become not just their teacher, but their mentor, ally and confidant as well. They are able to learn so much more in a nurturing environment, and we offer that safe space for our dancers to grow, both mentally and physically. The feedback from our dancers and their parents about their better technique and improved mindset has been priceless and motivates us even more to continue to give back to the next generation. If you are looking to join us “online and en pointe” you can contact us on our website at www.veyettevirtualballetschool.org, as well as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at veyettevirtualballetschool. We hope to see you at “the next stage of ballet training!”