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Professional From Washington Ballet Company Teaches EHS Students the “Foundation of Dance”

Every weekday, 16 EHS boys and girls step into the Ainslie Arts Center dance studio to learn the full spectrum of dance, from tap to jazz to modern. But recently the students in Episcopal’s afternoon dance program got an intensive study in a single dance form, ballet, thanks to a residency by an instructor of the renowned Washington Ballet.
Rachael Coad, a professional instructor with the 74-year-old company, spent six days over six weeks with the students, teaching fundamentals and challenging them to try new things. Coad also choreographed two numbers for “Happily Ever After,” the Disney-themed show the students will perform November 8 as part of Spirit Weekend. 

EHS dance instructor Brieanna Bailey sought out the Washington Ballet to give her students professional training in skills critical to all forms of dance. “Ballet is the foundation of dance; it’s where all dance stems from,” she says. Bailey also brought in an outside instructor this fall to teach hip-hop dance. As part of the 2018 Strategic Plan, all EHS faculty are looking for new ways to tap into Washington resources and bring experts from the area to campus to enhance student learning.

For Coad, the chance to teach at EHS was a bit like coming home. She grew up in Northern Virginia and attended a pre-professional boarding school for the arts in Lynchburg. She studied ballet and modern dance at Texas Christian University, then performed at various Dallas-area companies while also teaching at the Texas Ballet Theater. She began working with the Washington Ballet after returning to this area last year.

Though the afternoon dance program includes students at all levels of skill and experience, each has mastered key fundamentals, Coad says. “They’re really body smart and attentive learners,” she says. 

Coad also says Bailey and the students have created a supportive family atmosphere in the studio that eases fears that come with experimenting. “They’re learning how to fail, and that’s so important in life,” she says. “If we can laugh ourselves as we fail, we actually learn more in the process than if we just magically did something right the first time. And there’s a lot of laughter in that room.” 

Leslie Reyes-Garcia ’21, assistant captain of the group, says that after working on high-tempo forms of dance like tap and jazz, she’s enjoyed adjusting to how ballet demands strength and endurance at a slower pace. Plus, she says, Coad “brings such a calm presence to the studio.”

Says Sofi Igyan ’21, captain of the group: “She does a really good job of pushing us but keeping a balance. She doesn’t force us when we’re not able to push ourselves at the moment.”