Dance Centre Helps Dancers Follow Dreams

by Jonathan Chang ‘17

Ballerinas gracefully twirl and soar around the marley floor while others stretch and warm-up around the bars in the brightly lit studio. This is a typical scene at the Berrend Ballet Centre, a school for dance located nearby in Olney and where many students, former or current, have attended.

Patricia Berrend, a former associate director of The Washington School of Ballet, heads the centre, taking over after the previous director, Jane Bittner. The school has classes in ballet, modern dance, jazz, and tap dance with each dance style containing classes separated into different skill levels. The centre mainly teaches children and teenagers, but it does have an adult class and a beginners teen and adult class. Its pride is in its students, some from Sherwood, as its most successful dancers have won scholarships to study at professional schools such as the School of American Ballet, Joffrey Ballet School, and Juilliard. Former students are even performing in dance companies such as The American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, and Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Along with producing successful dancers, the centre is known for the many performances and competitions its students perform in. One noteworthy competition that dancers participated in last year was the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) Finals: New York. This international competition involves the top 12 studios which are decided during the YAGP semi-finals. In the finals, competitors can compete in solo dances and/or a group dance for their studio.

“It was really fun to get to perform my solos that I had put so many hours into for the past six months,” said freshman Maya Illanes who is currently in the highest level, pre-professional II.

Near the end of the schoolyear, an annual Dance Concert is held; showcased at Sandy SpringsFriends School Performing Arts Center on Memorial Day weekend, the concert is a compilation of different choreographies performed by the different groups from classical ballet pieces to more contemporary dance pieces. Another popular performance is Mary Day’s The Nutcracker, directed by Berrend herself and performed at the Olney Ballet Theatre every December. As the official school of Olney Ballet Theatre, most, if not all, students from the centre perform at the production.

Students from Sherwood are also in the show as many volunteer or perform as a dancer; however, dancers must audition or be part of the centre. The show is notable in how the performers are able to dance alongside guest professional dancers, performing original choreography by Mary Day, founder of the Washington School of Ballet.

Among all this, the most noteworthy aspect of the school must be the students and teachers. “There’s companionship, my best friends have been made there,” said senior Julia Lo who performed at the centre until last year. Many students have trained there since they were children, devoting hours each day to training. So it comes as no surprise that the students and teachers end up bonding, especially with Berrend. “She is like a second mom. She refers to us all as her children; I’ve basically been partly raised by her,” said Lo.