Walking into a ballet class, you expect certain things. Plenty of plies and pirouettes, perhaps an instructor calling out moves or clapping in time with the music, and certainly a plethora of puffy pink tulle.
What you don’t expect is the overwhelming smell of chlorine.
At the Madison Contemporary Vision Dance summer intensive program in July, dancers took a break from their traditional ballet classes and worked on their technique in the pool.
“It gives them a different perspective and helps them focus on what muscles they should be activating while they’re in certain moves to make them more graceful,” said instructor Allison Kenison.
Artistic director Sara Willcutts said her program is unique to their school. Currently, the classes are just for dancers, though Willcutt said that plans for an ongoing class open to anyone are tentatively in the works.
“There are some swim clubs that offer (what they call) water ballet classes, but that is more like synchronized swimming,” Willcutt said.
Willcutt developed the classes by chance during her pregnancy.
“I was amazed by how I was able to move in the water,” Willcutt said. “I could really move, even though it was hard for me to dance at that point in my pregnancy. I thought it would be a great way to teach ballet movements.”
Kenison explained that resistance created by the water slows and controls the dancers’ movements, giving them more time to think about how they should position their arms, the degree to which they need arch their back, or if their toes are pointed.
“Ballet is all about keeping good form, so this helps you correct and perfect your form,” said Ally Kriefski, one of the participants.
She said it also makes dancers more aware of the muscles they’re engaging in each move.
“We’re trying to teach them to relate what they do in the water with what they do out of it,” Kenison said.
Sarah Dewey, another dancer, said the work she does in the pool translates to other aspects of dance.
During practices, dancers work on various barre exercises, kicks and leaps.
“If we slow it down like this, we can think more about the transitions in our movements, which helps us be better artists,” Kenison said. “It allows for more time to melt into the next move and smooth out the movement.”
While all the dancers in the summer intensive were middle and high school age, they’re already thinking ahead to possible careers in dance.
Cierra Glick, a 14-year-old in the program, said she’s doing the underwater ballet class because it prepares her for what she hopes is yet to come, and gives her more to build on.
“I want to do a dance company in college,” Glick said.
While auditions in the Madison Contemporary Vision Dance troupe aren’t open to dancers until they’re age 18 , Willcutt said the goal is to help students prepare for a possible future in the arts.
“Young dancers who are serious about dance often take a summer intensive to supplement their yearly study at their home studios,” Willcutt explained.
“It’s a unique way to study with many teachers and meet dancers from different studios. It’s a time dancers can put in extra hours to improve and gain experience.”
‘It’s a unique way to study with many teachers and meet dancers from different studios. It’s a time dancers can put in extra hours to improve and gain experience.’ Sara Willcutts,