The Cool Nature of Dance

     With a mission to offer the best in classical ballet training, The Newton-Conover Auditorium opened The NewArt School of Ballet. Ballet professionals Melissa and Michael French will teach the classes, which will be offered for all levels of experience — from the beginning enthusiast, for the student who needs advanced training, and for the student who wants to prepare for a professional career in dance.
    “I’ve danced since I was 5,” Melissa said. “My mom put me in ballet because I was overly shy, and I remember crying my first day.”
    By the time she was 6, she wanted to become a professional dancer.
    “I saw the Nutcracker, and that did it,” she said.
    Melissa took private lessons, as many classes as she could, and soon was dancing on pointe. Michael’s training began early, too.
    “I’ve been away from home and training since I was 15, and formal training began when he was 17, in San Francisco,” he said. “I danced in Hungary, for the Hungarian Ballet, and was in the East Block when the Wall came down.”
    Michael danced with the Finnish National Ballet, Los Angeles Ballet and was principal dancer for Ballet Atlanta and Cincinnati Ballet.
    Melissa and Michael have decades of experience as performers and as instructors. Originally from California, both were dancers with Ballet Pacifica.        Melissa was principal dancer with the Nashville Ballet from 2001-03, and she retired to marry Michael.
    “I was coming to the end of my career, and Melissa was at the pinnacle of her’s,” Michael said. “I came back to train with my mentor, and met Melissa, who was also training with him.”
    Although the couple trained together, they never danced together because they weren’t the right height to dance together. Then, when Michael was 29, he suffered a serious back injury.
    The couple fell in love, became engaged, and for the next year, Melissa danced with Nashville.
    Now residents of Newton, Melissa, 38, and Michael, 41, devote their lives to passing along their knowledge of ballet to others.
    The instructors will teach using a combination of techniques from Vagonova, Cecchetti and Balanchine to help students develop in all areas of ballet.
    “Our vision, and what we want to accomplish, is to expose anybody that wants it, to classical ballet,” Michael said. “There is a wonderful marriage now between classical ballet and music, dance.”
    The popular TV show “So You Think You Can Dance” made ballet more popular.
    “We noticed a trend in the show in the last years — most of the dancers that win have strong ballet foundations,” he said. “It’s unveiled the cool nature of dance.”
    Last week, a meet and greet was held at the new ballet school. Auditions were held for placement, and classes were formed. Students and teachers spent time together to become familiar with each other and the school.
    Older, more experienced students will help Melissa and Michael with younger students.
    Melissa Early, 16, attends Newton-Conover Health Science High School.
    “I’m excited — I just got my pointe shoes,” she said. “I am going to teach dance later.”
    Kaylie Younce, 16, took lessons as a child, but began dancing “seriously” five years ago.
    “I’m not sure, but I may minor in dance in college,” she said, “and then teach.”
    Taylor Green, 15, has danced since she was 3 and always wanted to be a ballerina.
    “I’m not planning on going into dance,” she said. “Maybe I’ll teach.”
    Melissa and Michael look forward to teaching future “teachers,” youngsters and all ages at The NewArt School.
    “We are thrilled to have a home for our school,” Melissa said. “This is a beautiful facility with a studio and theater that fit our needs perfectly. We will be able to hold classes, rehearse and perform under one roof. We will be the only school of ballet in the area that can provide that sort of quality experience.”
    Adding a dance school of such high quality enhances The NewArt School’s goal of offering the best arts education in the area.
    “To the best of my knowledge, we are the only non-profit school of dance in the Unifour area,” said Reggie Helton, executive director of the Newton-Conover Auditorium. “In addition, The NewArt School currently offers music lessons, pottery classes and youth art classes. We’re proud to add Melissa and Michael to our list of respected teachers and artists.”
    Free introductory lessons and auditions began Jan. 4, and classes start Jan. 11. Call for available time slots and tuition structure. Students may enroll for lessons at any time during the year.
    All NewArt School of Ballet classes will be held at the Newton-Conover Auditorium located at 60 W. Sixth St. in Newton.
    For more information or directions, call the Auditorium at (828) 464-8100 or e-mail for additional information.