GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – International Ballet founder Lena Forster has been teaching adults with special needs to develop life skills through dance for the past 15 years. A documentary focusing on the class has won more than seven awards at film festivals throughout the country.
The documentary, “Invitation to the Dance,” was directed by International Ballet Executive Director, Sarah Shoemaker.
7NEWS recently sat down with Forster to find out more about her and the classes offered at the dance school.
Who are you?
I’m Lena Forster. I was the founder of International Ballet and its affiliate school, International Ballet Academy. Now, I’m just the founder and a consultant. Now I just get to do what I want to do. And part of that is a special needs program that I developed.
How did the special-needs dance class for adults begin?
It started when somebody from Special Needs, Thrive Upstate came over and asked if I would donate tickets to The Nutcracker for them to bring a group, and I said, “sure!” I love inclusiveness.
I want everybody to see the ballet. I have become a lot less demanding in that class. But there are certain things that get me, you know. You look that way, then you go that way (for example). I think hopefully everybody can learn.
Some of the students have Downs Syndrome, quite a few with Downs Syndrome. Some have traumatic brain injuries due to accidents or things like that, and a lot of them are physically and mentally disabled. There’s a story behind every [student].
How did you get started in ballet?
I have been in ballet all my life. I grew up in a very good, very, very professional [ballet] surroundings. I went to the School of American Ballet, which is the official school of the New York City Ballet. And that’s like one of the toughest schools to get into nationwide.
So I grew up in a very strict environment of ballet, and you can’t find that everywhere. You know, like the major cities might have that. But when I moved to Greenville, I obviously saw that there was nothing here of that caliber, training-wise.
How long have you been doing the International Ballet?
We’ll be celebrating 20 years next season (2023).
What age groups does the dance school teach?
In addition to the class for students with special needs, there are pre-ballet, youth and adult courses offered by the dance company; the youngest student is 3-years-old, Forster said.
We start [teaching students] in pre-ballet, which is a more creative movement, and teaching them also about the class environment. Classes are done a specific way when you’re very little.
We teach coordination, and rhythm skills, you know, following directions. All of those things are important for a child, and they just progress through the years from pre-ballet to ballet.
Besides children, teenagers and special-needs adults, are there classes?
Yes. Adult ballet consists of people that always wanted to do it, for example, and just never had an opportunity. Now they do.
So it can be a complete beginner, somebody that’s just always admired it or somebody that took [ballet] all the way through going to school and then, you know, have their own kids and say, “I’d like to continue to do something for myself.”
What is something that may surprise people about ballet?
Actually how difficult it is to just stand correctly. If you’re holding yourself correctly, everything else becomes easier. Not that it’s easy to hold yourself together. You know, you have to line yourselves up, make sure your shoulders are straight, your pelvis is tucked-in, as you walk.
This is exactly what adults struggle with. They say, “I just spent 5 minutes learning how to hold my arm in front of me!”
Adult ballet classes for regular adults begin this week from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings.
People just jump into the deep end and learn as they go. The community of adults who take ballet is great, friendly, and warm and the population is generally older – retired or close to that. Many have dance backgrounds, but some don’t, according to the dance school.
One woman – about 55-60 years old – started from scratch about 3 years ago. She comes twice a week and has made so much progress. She loves it – not because she is “good” necessarily, but because she enjoys it, according to the dance school.
To sign up, visit International Ballet and click “Register Now” at the top. The first class is free as a trial. Beyond that, it is $18/class.