Ballet Tech, NYC Public School for Dance
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First-rate pre-professional ballet training
Fierce competition to get in and stay in
Ballet Tech is a tiny school created in 1978 to train dancers, many of whom have gone on to perform professionally with Alvin Ailey, American Ballet Theatre and Dance Theatre of Harlem. The school offers academic classes and ballet for children in grades 4 through 8.
"Ballet Tech brings together a lovely mix of kids from all walks of life who reflect the city," said principal Roy ONeill. Although they are racially, academically and ethnically mixed, most have a similar body typet hat is, small and slim. Some kids come from persistently dangerous schools, where kids act up and teachers yell, but at Ballet Tech they come into the fold, and develop a sense of appreciation of differentness, ONeill said. Because they are recognized for their skill in dance, they are usually willing to work in other areas that may be harder for them, a teacher said. The boys and girls seemed to understand how special their education is; several said, I love dance! when asked what they liked best.
The school screens thousands of 3rd graders (and 4th and 5th for the few open spots) in 200 New York City public schools to find children who exhibit the strength, coordination and musicality needed for ballet. Up to 700 are chosen to participate in six introductory dance classes, which are held during the school year at Ballet Tech. Children who show the greatest aptitude are invited back for six more weeks.
Most kids have not had formal dance training, stressed ONeill, a former math teacher at the school. Forty children are picked to join the two 4th grade classes at Ballet Tech. Many students travel a good distance to get to schoolfrom Far Rockaway, Queens and two vans-full from the Bronx. Parents and the Ballet Tech Foundation, which supports the ballet curriculum, arranges for van transportation to and from school for those who need it.
Students begin their dance curriculum with two classes per week in 4th grade, progressively adding ballet, technique and pointe classes until they take classes five days a week. Twenty students mostly from the current 5th grade class are selected to continue in the 6th grade. Those who dont make the cut have access to District 2s excellent middle schools, the principal said.
Academics are strong and improving. Class size is small and children were focused as they participated in math games, science projects and group discussions. Math teacher Hassim Mohammed, a former engineer, said the kids are not only hard-working in dance, they are academically focused as well. Teachers have strengthened writing instruction in partnership with the respected Teachers College writing program, resulting in a greater volume and quality of writing, the principal said. Mohammed teaches algebra to all 8th graders and most pass the Regents test. The school serves a wide range of abilities, including many who score below Level 3 (out of 4) on standardized tests, but because classes are small kids seem to get the attention they need. Academic record is not considered in admissions.
Roughly a dozen students go on to high school at theProfessional Performing Arts School(PPAS) and continue their dance classes at Ballet Tech in the afternoon.Most high school dancers perform annually with select younger students in Ballet Techs excellent Kids Dance productions at the Joyce Theater.
Among Ballet Techs alumni are a professional soccer player, a legal assistant, a public defender, a personal trainer and a dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company.
Although there is no gym, kids get plenty of physical activity in dance classes. Recess is typically spent playing games, chatting or coloring in the classrooms.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: There are very few children with special needs.
ADMISSIONS: Open auditions are held at Ballet Tech several times a year, September through May, for children who attend schools that do not participate in the screening. To register, check the school's website or call (212) 777-7710, ext. 300. ONeill advises parents to encourage their schools to participate. "You dont have to be a great dancer," he said. A few kids with previous dance training are admitted to the upper grades. (Lydie Raschka, May 2017)