Today, Ms. de Lavallade told the students, “there are no limits.” She added: “You have the freedom to be who you want to be, but you have to focus and work for it.”
If the class was any indication, these young dancers, ranging in age from 8 to 13, are no strangers to focus and hard work. Taking their places at the barre, they followed intently as Ms. Copeland led them through a series of exercises, pausing to offer corrections, to adjust fingers and feet. The barre should be used “as support, not to hold on for dear life,” she said. The arms in fifth position should be rounded yet lengthened, as opposed to looking like “a cry for help.”
While Ms. Copeland attended to details, Ms. de Lavallade — an actress and choreographer as well as a multifaceted dancer — zoomed out, offering a necessary reminder that technique isn’t everything. When the students rested on the floor after the barre exercises she stood up from her front-row seat and gently steered the class in an unexpected direction.
“There’s a light coming out of your head,” she said, asking them to envision a vertical beam of energy, and they all seemed to grow a little taller. “You have to start using your imagination for your bodies.” Rather than teaching steps, she invited the students to stand and imagine watching something on the horizon, then something crawling on the ground. Suddenly, through those simple prompts, they had all become part of a story — and looked the most relaxed they had all evening.
After the concerted struggle of technique class, it was comforting to hear Ms. de Lavallade stress the importance of conversing with, rather than arguing with, the body. “You have to talk to your body and be kind to it and not force it,” she said.
Or as Mr. Baldeo put it after class, reflecting on what he had learned, “You have to make sure that you’re having fun and not getting too too too focused, because you don’t want to stress yourself out or anything.”
If one goal of the evening was to encourage the students to dream big, it worked.
“I really look up to Misty Copeland,” said Ciyanna Rogers-Taylor, 11, of the Dance Theater of Harlem School, noting that she owns “all of her books.” And Ms. de Lavallade, she added, was just as great an inspiration, “for how long she’s been dancing, and how she opened up a pathway for the rest of us.”
“I hope I can dance with them in the future,” she said.