Nutcracker inspires dancer to open ballet studio
The Central NJ Ballet Theatre dancers are set to peform The Nutcracker Dec. 13 - 14, 2013. Pictured are (back) Mariah Levach, Christina Dunnington, Amber Rae Mack, Alexia Angelucci, Shirya Varma, Erin Ryan, (front) Sophia Levach, Alisha Cardenas (Director) and Gia Villagas.
By Stacey Pastorella
It’s that time of year again, when dancers across the country will perform The Nutcracker, and, perhaps, inspire children to fall in love with ballet, like Alisha Cardenas did years ago.
“My mother said that they took me to see The Nutcracker when I was six or seven years old,” Cardenas said. “I remember that. I was completely fascinated by it. I loved the pointe shoes and the tutu. I just thought it was so beautiful, and she said that, from then on out, I begged her to take dance.”
Soon after, she began her studies with Marina Levasheva at The Georgia Ballet. Now Cardenas, owner and artistic director of The Central NJ Ballet Theatre, is helping her own students prepare for a performance of The Nutcracker, scheduled to take place Dec. 13 and 14.
“It’s happy, and it’s the holiday season, and everybody likes the music,” Cardenas said.
The Central NJ Ballet Theatre offers classes in a variety of dance genres, including ballet, jazz and lyrical.
Cardenas said that her lifelong dedication to the art of dance benefits her as an instructor. In addition to her early work at The Georgia Ballet, she attended a performing arts high school, where she learned about ballet, musical theater and jazz. As a student at the University of Georgia, Cardenas minored in dance and was a member of the ballet ensemble. She draws on her experience to provide authentic training for her students.
“It’s not just a ballet class. I feel like I’m giving them the entire culture of being in a ballet school,” Cardenas said.
That culture includes a sense of structure that increases as students advance. Cardenas’s students range from preschool age through adulthood.
Pre-ballet classes focus on creative movement, motor skills and having fun while learning some of the basics. Students in beginning ballet delve deeper into proper technique and terminology. By the time they reach the intermediate level, Cardenas enforces the decorum of the ballet culture that she experienced in high school and college. Dancers are responsible for their conduct, including preparation, attire and promptness.
When choosing selections for her students to perform, Cardenas also strives to provide them with traditional experiences, so that they are familiar with the classics. Recently, they performed Giselle, and they have also done excerpts from Sleeping Beauty.
“I try to give my girls a leg up. If they were to go to company, or if they were to go to a college program, they already know these old ballets, because they’ve been choreographed from the late 1800s, early 1900s, and they’ve changed very minimally throughout the course of history,” she said.
In the summer, The Central NJ Ballet Theatre pairs with the Rising Stars Voice Studio to hold a Musical Theatre Summer Camp. Last year, students worked on Hairspray and High School Musical 2.
When she instructs dance students, Cardenas is fulfilling a lifelong dream. She remembers telling her father years ago that she wanted to be a ballet school director. Although her recollection of the conversation has faded with time, the memories of her inspiration have not.
Cardenas’s career goals were inspired by the late Iris Hensley, who founded The Georgia Ballet, and served as its artistic director.
“She was very creative, and she was always happy, always smiling, a very sweet, sweet woman, very smart. I immediately identified with that woman, and I was just like ‘that’s it. That’s what I want to do.’ Ballet, to me, is the most beautiful thing on Earth,” Cardenas said.
Despite the graceful appearance of ballet, Cardenas said it’s important to remember that the dance is a technical and complex art form that requires patience while learning. On a wall in her office is a framed magazine photograph of a ballerina, with the phrase, “It’s amazing what goes into making something effortless.”
Cardenas knows that from experience, and seeing the progress of her students is something that she finds rewarding.
“You see a progression. It goes little by little by little, and then it’s two years later, and she’s performing Snow Queen, or she is understudy for Sugar Plum, or she’s Clara in The Nutcracker,” Cardenas said. “Or she was three years old, and now she’s six years old, and, all of a sudden, she’s doing stuff that is very hard, and she’s very confident about it, and her family is so proud. It just warms your heart.”
The Central NJ Ballet Theatre was scheduled to perform a few of The Nutcracker dances at Bordentown City’s annual tree lighting Nov. 30.
The Central NJ Ballet Theatre is located at 146 US 130 in Bordentown and can be reached at (609) 424-3192. More information is available online at cnjballet.com and on the studio’s Facebook profile.