The Softer Side of Island Soul
A Ballet School Teaches Grace and Dance Skills to Island Kids

January 1st, 2011
by Thomas Tomczyk

[private]

Few people thought that ballet would be such a hit on Roatan. After all, this is a “tough island.” Boys and girls are taught to hunt for iguanas, fish for marlin and cut brush with machetes. There is a softer, gentler side to island soul, and Wendy Landaverde-Bauer, a Ballet school owner and instructor helped to bring it out.
Wendy’s ballet school- “Bauer Dance Studio” isn’t the first ballet studio to open on the island. Two years ago a ballet school in French Harbour initiated the islanders to ballet. Elizabeth McNab, who minored in ballet at Loyola University in New Orleans, had a “Classic Ballet Studio” in French Harbour. “I decided to do it for fun and it went really well,” says McNab, who had over 40 girls enrolled in three classes. The students prepared a “nutcracker” performance at the Christmas festival in French Harbour.
Wendy has begun her own school, first at a tiny space in Plaza Mar. In May Wendy, 38, started her ballet studio with just ten students. Then, as news of the school began spreading, more students began coming in. “Now we grew and we want to be bigger,” says Wendy who wants to put a public viewing area for the parents, more mirrors. She would like to create a performing arts center “where people could teach dance, theater in this space,” says Wendy. “Music, painting, dancing, that is my idea for the future.”
Educating Roatanians about ballet wasn’t easy at first. “I had difficulty in explaining to the parents that ballet is a discipline, it’s not just jumping or moving around. It’s a discipline that requires a lot of effort on the part of the girls,” says Wendy. Wendy teaches three classes: pre-primary, primary and first grade. She follows a Royal Ballet school curriculum, the same curriculum that she followed as a student and instructor.
“‘You can’t understand that children on the islands don’t wear socks,’ a mother told me. But I had to explain that socks are there to make sure the ballet shoes don’t hurt the children’s feet. ‘If you don’t want to bring her, thank you very much, but that is my uniform.”
A scene from Peter and the Wolf.

A scene from Peter and the Wolf.

Few people thought that ballet would be such a hit on Roatan. After all, this is a “tough island.” Boys and girls are taught to hunt for iguanas, fish for marlin and cut brush with machetes. There is a softer, gentler side to island soul, and Wendy Landaverde-Bauer, a Ballet school owner and instructor helped to bring it out.

Wendy’s ballet school- “Bauer Dance Studio” isn’t the first ballet studio to open on the island. Two years ago a ballet school in French Harbour initiated the islanders to ballet. Elizabeth McNab, who minored in ballet at Loyola University in New Orleans, had a “Classic Ballet Studio” in French Harbour. “I decided to do it for fun and it went really well,” says McNab, who had over 40 girls enrolled in three classes. The students prepared a “nutcracker” performance at the Christmas festival in French Harbour.

Wendy has begun her own school, first at a tiny space in Plaza Mar. In May Wendy, 38, started her ballet studio with just ten students. Then, as news of the school began spreading, more students began coming in. “Now we grew and we want to be bigger,” says Wendy who wants to put a public viewing area for the parents, more mirrors. She would like to create a performing arts center “where people could teach dance, theater in this space,” says Wendy. “Music, painting, dancing, that is my idea for the future.”

Educating Roatanians about ballet wasn’t easy at first. “I had difficulty in explaining to the parents that ballet is a discipline, it’s not just jumping or moving around. It’s a discipline that requires a lot of effort on the part of the girls,” says Wendy. Wendy teaches three classes: pre-primary, primary and first grade. She follows a Royal Ballet school curriculum, the same curriculum that she followed as a student and instructor.

“‘You can’t understand that children on the islands don’t wear socks,’ a mother told me. But I had to explain that socks are there to make sure the ballet shoes don’t hurt the children’s feet. ‘If you don’t want to bring her, thank you very much, but that is my uniform.”

Drew Storms with his daughter Maya watches the ballet performance at Henry Morgan.

Drew Storms with his daughter Maya watches the ballet performance at Henry Morgan.

Wendy’s Plaza Mar studio is simple, but has all the elements that ballet studios have: wooden floor, holding bars and mirrors. It’s a seven by nine meter dancing space, with long, red curtains on one side and tall mirrors on the walls. The space cost around $4,000 to prepare and by far the most expensive element of the project was the floor. “Look at this floor. This is spring floor and dancing on it will not hurt your back,” says Wendy. Three-quarters inch plywood sheets were used to create a dance floor that would cushion the dancer’s jumps and falls. “Each sheet of plywood has a spring, in the middle and at the corners,” explains Wendy. “Whenever a girl is jumping, the floor will give a little bit.”

Wendy comes from a musical family and all her life she was associated with Royal Academy of Dance in San Pedro Sula. Wendy came to the island because she married an American living on Roatan. “Ballet is my passion and this is what I want to continue to be doing,” says Wendy. Wendy has gone through the Royal Ballet certification process achieving seventh grade. She hopes to one day be an instructor accredited by Royal Ballet, but realizes that this will be a long and expensive endeavor. For five years she worked at a marketing company and took a long break from ballet. When she got back into ballet she had to refresh her knowledge.

The culmination of the ballet school’s work was a performance of all the school’s pupils at a theater space at Henry Morgan. The December 4 performance filled the Henry Morgan auditorium almost to the brim. The ballet at Henry Morgan was actually smaller than the practice stage that the students use at their school at Plaza Mar.

The first part of the performance was choreographed dances: belly dancing, flamenco, and a Nutcracker scene. The flamenco was performed by Wendy’s niece Alexa Landaverde and the belly dance was performed by Glenda Geraldina Marquez.

The second part of the show was the “Peter and the Wolf” a 1938 Sergei Prokofiew musical symphony. The music score by Sergei Prokofiev was played under sound supervision by Kristopher Goldman. Kristopher’s son Edwin Goldman played “the Grandpa”, as the only two boys in the performance. “They worked so hard on the preparations,” said Jennifer Serrano about her daughter Alessandra Piñeda, who played one of the Hunters in the play.

Sheryl’s Galindo’s two granddaughters: Isamar and Andrea were in the performance. Andrea played the bird in the performance and Isamar played the cat. “You can tell that it took a lot of discipline to put this together,” said Sheryl, after seeing the Peter and the Wolf performance.

“I am doing that because I want to give what I’ve learned from my teachers,” says Wendy who believes that her greatest mentor was Jorge “Giorgino” Orellana, a journalist and a ballet instructor who was gunned down and killed in April in San Pedro Sula. “He was my mentor for 26 years. He was a great dancer and a teacher,” says Wendy about Orellana. “He was going to get me a scholarship in Argentina, but my family decided I was too young and I couldn’t go,” says Wendy. “He gave me my heritage and I need to pass it on.”

At her ballet school, Wendy watches the student’s every move, jump and gesture. “Skip, skip, pony gallop, pony gallop,” says Wendy to her group of primary class students during practice. While some girls are athletic, doing wheel carts, some other girls are shyer and just beginning to learn how to walk with grace. Wendy leans over a girl to explain how to place her hands to do a proper cartwheel. Wendy encourages the girls that are doing well, or just trying their best. The lessons have an order and structure as Wendy follows the curriculum of classes prepared by the Royal Ballet.

While some girls just wear socks, others wear ballet shoes. “You have to be on top of your toes… and feet together,” instructs Wendy. Discipline is key to the class. Learning about grace; keeping concentration and precision in movement. In 2011 some girls will take an exam with the instructors coming from San Pedro Sula to perform the exam.

Wendy Landaverde-Bauer with her primary students at her studio in Coxen Hole.

Wendy Landaverde-Bauer with her primary students at her studio in Coxen Hole.

Many people do things before they have to. A few do things because they feel a passion for that something. Wendy belongs to the latter group. “This is not going to make me rich financially, but make me rich in another way,” says Wendy. “When my students are smiling and they are happy, that is making me proud and rich.” [/private]

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