Aspen Santa Fe Ballet trains young dancers from Glenwood
Post Independent contributor
For Glenwood Springs residents, living in the same river valley as Aspen poses some challenges, but it also makes life in a small town much richer.
For instance, most places with a population of fewer than 10,000 do not have high-level dance studios within city limits. But with the School of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s Glenwood Springs location, young dancers can begin training for a professional career.
In fairness, Glenwood has incredible dance options in addition to the School of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, including the Glenwood Springs Center for the Arts, whose dance team consistently wins national competitions, and Glenwood Dance Academy, which was the studio ASFB took over two years ago.
But there’s something to be said for the quality of training ASFB offers, and that quality is evident in two young students who are making great strides on their path to professional dance careers.
David Gabriel, a 14-year-old from Glenwood Springs whom you might remember as Fritz in the past two ASFB productions of “The Nutcracker,” spent five weeks last summer studying with Pacific Northwest Ballet. He plans on auditioning for next summer’s program, and once he turns 16 the year after, he plans to apply for its Professional Division and move to Seattle for the company’s 40-week, one-to-two-year training program.
And Grace Weidemann, a 16-year-old from Glenwood Springs, spent two weeks last summer at the Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory in Connecticut and is now studying there on scholarship for the year in its pre-professional training program for high school-aged students.
Gabriel’s father, Pat Gabriel, said it’s almost unheard of to have such great training options for young dancers in a city the size of Glenwood Springs.
“Go to Gypsum, go to Meeker, go to Craig,” he said. “We’re really lucky. Except for the metropolitan areas, I don’t think you’re going to find this kind of opportunity.”
David Gabriel and Weidemann were in the same class at the School of ASFB, studying for the past two years under Stephen Straub, a former ASFB company member.
“Our school is amazing, and it’s really special that we’re able to offer this level of training in a rural area, essentially,” said Straub. “We’re a recreational program, but we have so many students who are aspiring professional dancers, so it’s fun for us to try to make it as pre-professional as possible.”
Those efforts have seemingly paid off, if David Gabriel and Weidemann are any indication. They both said the School of ASFB laid the groundwork for their careers in dance, and in fact Weidemann may not be dancing at all right now if it weren’t for ASFB.
About a year ago, Weidemann suffered a serious injury that put dance on hold. It was during this time away from her passion that she realized for the first time in no uncertain terms that she wanted to pursue a professional career in dance. And while Glenwood Dance Academy laid the foundation of her classical ballet training, Weidemann says the individualized attention she got from the School of ASFB when she was recovering from her injury is what made it possible for her to come back better than ever.
“This school was very, very beneficial, and I think it helped me improve a lot because the teachers there are so dedicated to their students,” she said.
Not only are classes top-notch, but students have the opportunity to dance in a professional production of “The Nutcracker” and interact with ASFB company members. This experience is what David Gabriel said is most valuable.
“You get the feel of what it’ll be like to dance in a professional company,” he said. “We’re on stage with them during ‘The Nutcracker,’ and I’ve gotten to just talk with the company members.”
Straub said he’s not at all surprised at the big steps Gabriel and Weidemann are taking. He said Weidemann is the kind of dancer who’s always the first to arrive to class, who stretches and warms up when her classmates are socializing during breaks. And Gabriel, he said, has a star quality that doesn’t come along very often.
Straub said because he’s only been teaching for five years, he’s not used to the feeling of seeing his students progress; it’s still special and surprising.
“I’ll say, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re so tall,’ or, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re getting so good,’” he said with a laugh. “And that’s just because they’ve fallen in love with dance. That’s what I get to start seeing now, is how my love and my effort is coming back to me through their dancing.
“And some of these kids, they just might be ballet stars.”
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