By Katrina Wilson | Photos Provided by Ordway Conservatory
Sara Ordway, artistic director and owner of Ordway Conservatory in Manassas, ensures her students obtain more than a world-class ballet education at her institution; they also gain health, confidence and leadership skills.
“For ballet students, excellent training is paramount,” Ordway said. “Without proper technique, a dancer can’t stay injury free or reach the professional level. It’s always been important to me to instill confidence in my students.”
She said very few ballet students end up in a professional company, but every child who comes into her class has a tremendous amount to gain from ballet.
“Ballet is unique in that it’s very physically demanding, it requires acting skills and it is an art form,” she said. “You get to be an athlete, an actor and an artist all in one.”
Classes at Ordway Conservatory
The classes at Ordway Conservatory allow individuals from young to older to experience the uniqueness of ballet and other dance styles and techniques.
“Ordway Conservatory is designed as a mock-company. We have three levels within our ‘company’ that our dancers rise through. They take class together and they are cast in two full-length productions throughout the year. Our cast is 100% students,” Ordway said.
The conservatory has a creative movement class for dancers age 3 who are potty trained. Their classes explore movement through imagination and teach the names of basic steps and positions.
The institution also has elementary, intermediate and advanced ballet. Elementary classes are for ages 6 to 9, and intermediate classes are for ages 9 and up.
“They make up the corps de ballet (backdrop of principal dancers) and they dance the principal roles,” she said. “It’s a way for all of them to get to experience what a professional company is like — even if they don’t plan on pursuing dance as a career.”
A principal dancer is the highest rank in a ballet company. Principal dancers dance the leading roles in ballets, like Odette/Odile in Swan Lake.
There is an advanced ballet class, which is a pre-professional division course that is a training program for those who plan to be professional dancers — dancers who are paid to dance for professional companies.
“Our pre-professional program goes through our dancers’ senior year of high school,” Ordway said. “If they are planning on becoming professional dancers, they will audition for companies during their senior year.”
“My advanced dancers take class with me an average of four hours a night and up to seven hours on Saturdays,” Ordway said. “Most of them are also honor students taking AP courses at school. Ballet training helps you learn to manage time well and prioritize.”
Male dancers are encouraged to join classes at Ordway Conservatory.
“We have male dancers,” Ordway said. “Which is wonderful because it allows us to work on pas de deuxs (a dance duet commonly done between a male and female dancer), and it helps us spread the message that boys dance too!”
Ordway Conservatory has classes for adult dancers, too.
“We offer an adult ballet fitness class for our adult students,” she said. “The class is full of mothers whose students dance at the conservatory and community members who have fond memories of dancing when they were young.”
Ordway Conservatory offers a variety of classes in addition to ballet. These classes help dancers become more well-rounded. “A well-rounded dancer can handle a greater variety of roles,” Ordway said. “There are so many different career paths that a dancer can take. The more types of dance you’re familiar with, the more options you have. From dancing in a ballet company to dancing in music videos to choreographing for television. The possibilities are vast.”
Those possibilities have led her students to be successful after they graduate high school.
“Almost all of my students have continued to dance in some way or another after graduating,” she said. “Some of my former students now teach for me, which makes me so happy. Some have gone on to dance professionally, and a couple are now fashion models.”
Adjusting to the Pandemic
While there are many great successes with the arts, the arts community (like many other communities) has been affected by COVID-19.
“We were ordered to close our location in March, and as of right now, we aren’t sure when we’ll be able to reopen,” Ordway said. “The arts were one of the first industries shut down and will be one of the last to reopen. As soon as we found out we would need to close, we began virtual lessons without missing a day of
She added that she and her students are still making the most of the pandemic.
“I am blessed to have very dedicated students who have been working extremely hard at home. The progress I’ve seen over the last couple months is inspiring and makes the extra work of virtual lessons all worth it. Our virtual lessons are very advantageous for our dancers, and we’ve even had several new students join us in the past few weeks.”
Dancers and teachers alike have found ways to have fun virtually.
“I wanted to keep things as normal and fun as possible for our families and our community during this unprecedented time,” she said. “Ordway Conservatory has been hosting live craft and trivia nights, as well as my personal favorite, Teach Your Family To Dance Night, where my husband lets me teach him a ballet
lesson on Facebook Live. We’ve also had lots of fun activities for our enrolled students like a virtual talent show, fashion show and a prom.”
Those are not the only things Ordway Conservatory has done virtually. Ordway is finding ways to spotlight seniors who are a part of the graduation class of 2020.
“Since our class of 2020 won’t be able to perform with us one last time, I wanted to do everything I could to make this time special for them. In addition to sharing photos and anecdotes from their time with me, we also made a video of our students giving our seniors a final standing ovation from their homes,” she said. “We will also be having a drive-up certificate ceremony on the day our recital would have been. Our seniors will be spaced out in our courtyard as their classmates drive up to receive their end of the year certificates and to say goodbye to our class of 2020.”
While the summer brought a time to say farewell to some, it also brought time for her students to continue to work on their techniques.
“We offered intensive classes for all ages throughout the summer,” Ordway said. “We also held extremely fun camps for the younger students. We will keep a virtual option for all our classes throughout the summer even if the restrictions are lifted from our business. Ballet requires year-round training, and I have
proven to my students that nothing, especially quarantine, will keep me from giving them their world class education.”
It’s easy to tell that teaching is Ordway’s passion. “Teaching is the most fulfilling experience I’ve ever had,” she said. “There came a time during my career where I noticed that watching my students perform became more enjoyable than performing myself,” she said. “Watching them grow, talking them through their problems, and watching them make good choices is endlessly rewarding. I love ballet so much. To think
that the steps I danced were danced for generations before me and will continue to be danced for generations to come thrills me. Passing on that vast history and sharing my love for this art form is what I’m meant to do.”
For more information on the conservatory, view their website: ordwayballet.com.
Katrina Wilson is a Carolina girl still adjusting to Northern Virginia. Writing is her outlet and you can contact her at email@example.com.