A delicate Balance: ballet group keeps students on their toes

Oliver Truong plugged his iPod headphones into his ears and faced the mirrored wall. He jumped, flexed his calves, lunged his body toward the ceiling and twirled in the air like a figure skater. After repeating the double tours en l’air three times, he took a swig of water and started the song again. His tendons strained in his neck as he tested fast, sharp movements to the song “Panic in the Disco.” A few days later, Truong tested some of his motions with a new song, Etta James’s “At Last”-a piece that added a sultry and sensuous flair to his choreography.

Choreography is still new to this junior; he began dancing his sophomore year of high school. Ballet fascinated Truong, however, long before he joined a studio.

“The biggest draw is seeing something superhuman: women balancing on toes, flying across the stage in three steps, the mix of athleticism and artistry,” he said.

But when Truong entered GW three years ago, there was no ballet group on campus.

“I missed the movement, the exercise and the pursuit of perfection,” he said. Most importantly, Truong missed the studio atmosphere.

“I needed that community,” he added.

He was not alone.

In fall 2004, Truong, Caitlin Emery and Rachel Glickhouse formed Balance, an organization dedicated to celebrating ballet. Balance attracted 40 members for its first season. Now, as Balance prepares for its second annual spring show, it boasts 120 members on its listserv – a tremendous growth for a new group.

“The fact that so many freshmen came out shows that there is a great lack of ballet in the GW community and that people want to continue it after high school,” sophomore member Alice Huling said.

Truong’s friend and club co-founder, Emery, also noticed that there were few opportunities for ballet dancers on campus when she entered GW.

“Anyone who’s ever had a passion knows the pain that comes when one suddenly finds that passion absent from daily life,” Emery, a junior who is studying abroad in Oxford, England, wrote in an e-mail.

“The dance department offered only two classes, both of which were difficult for me to fit in my schedule,” Emery added. “And the classes offered at studios in the D.C. area were a little too expensive for my student budget.”

During the spring of 2004, Emery, Truong, Glickhouse and Mallory Pierce (who transferred from GW before Balance’s first season) formulated a plan for establishing a ballet group. The following fall, they registered with the Student Activities Center and received their first Student Association allocation.

Balance immediately filled the gaps in GW dancers’ lives by offering free student-taught classes for members in the Lloyd Gym on the Mount Vernon Campus, social events such as movie and bowling nights, and trips to local performances, Emery said.

Balance also holds general body meetings about once a month and communicates frequently via listserv e-mails, Balance President Kelly Holmes said.

According to the group’s mission statement, they aim “to find perfect balance: between classical and contemporary ballet; the often life-consuming levels of high school commitment and a commitment level more suited to college life; within a community composed of beginners through those at the pre-professional level, and, of course, in our dancing.”

Balance executes its mission by offering two performances: the classical “Nutcracker” in the winter and the more contemporary student-choreographed showcase in the spring.

The group’s first “Nutcracker” performance won the club the Spotlight Award for student organization of the month, Emery said. This year SAC nominated Balance for the performance group of the year and the Pyramid award for student organization of the year, Truong said.

Balance dancers are now rehearsing for their spring show, which will include six student-choreographed pieces. Truong said the show is tentatively scheduled for May 4 and May 5 in the Theater and Dance Department’s Building J (2131 G St.). He said Balance might also decide to invite some of GW’s non-ballet dance groups to perform this year.

Truong hopes the annual show will continue well into the future, taking place in larger venues and drawing more attention.

But some executive board members are worried that the organization will disintegrate when Balance loses its founding class in 2007, Holmes said.

“I think it is important for us next year to have fresh blood on the executive board,” said Huling, the group’s treasurer. “We’re trying to get freshmen to step up and run.”

Beyond keeping Balance running, the executive board is wrestling over the decision to go in a new direction, Truong said.

“We’re planning on implementing a company. The turnout for ‘Nutcracker’ auditions this year was huge, so we know people are interested in performing,” he said.

Holmes and Truong want Balance’s core dancers to have performance pieces ready for invitationals at other schools.

“We want to increase our visibility and prestige,” Truong said.

Even if it changes, Balance would continue to encourage all skill levels to participate.

“If someone is less skilled, we’ll still let them perform. Our repertoire ranges from beginner pieces to more complex ones,” Holmes said.

For now, Holmes and Truong are concentrating on their choreography.

“Today I came in with only 45 seconds done,” Holmes said, laughing. “But I really need to see people moving to tell what it looks like pattern-wise.”

Truong, who is not dancing in the spring show, is choreographing “At Last” for Christine Moloney. He takes an approach similar to Holmes’ with his planning, preferring to let the music drive the creative process.

“My lonely days are over,” James croons as Truong and Moloney allow her smoldering voice to guide their motions.

The poetic synchrony of the pair as they slink across the floor seems to reflect Balance’s strong community-a community that was missing before.

Holmes said, “It’s all about finding a niche of dancers that are just as excited about ballet as you are.”

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