Written by David Nigel Lloyd
When a good dancer comes on stage with the power to possess your imagination and your emotions, you’re just gone. And that,” says Jana Morgret-Kirks with a conspiratorial laugh, “is very hard to teach.”
The owner and instructor at Revolution Ballet Academy, Morgret-Kirks, at 27, is living her dream. Or at least half of it. “I always wanted to teach ballet,” she says.
A dancer’s artistry and physical safety depend, she explains, on command of technique. Artistry can be discovered and mentored; above all it must be set free. Technique, Morgret-Kirks explains, “sets you free.”
Jana Morgret-Kirks née Lenker grew up in Tehachapi. “I had great dance teachers there,” she states unequivocally. Among them was Broderick Wilson, a veteran of New York’s famed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. If it weren’t for Tehachapi’s dance community, she insists, she would not have gone to the Ashby Academy of Dance in Bakersfield. There she discovered the Royal Academy of Dance.
Though the adjective “royal” might seem ludicrously aloof, it is anything but. Founded in London in 1920, the academy developed an accountable instructional system which held both dance as a high art form and the well-being of the dancer as their primary concerns. These two concepts are often mutually exclusive. The academy next received a Royal Charter to keep up the good work. Today, more than 250,000 students worldwide are enrolled in RAD schools under the patronage of Queen Elizabeth II.
Patti Ashby taught Morgret-Kirks ballet from the ground up. “It was enthralling and exciting and so clear!” she recalls. Progress in RAD is determined by examinations. As in Fox-TV’s So You Think You Can Dance, students dance before a panel of international examiners. However, there is no audience to go berserk and your grade comes in the mail a few months later. Jana passed all her exams.
Sasha Mallory, who came in second in the 2011 season of So You Think You Can Dance, “went through Advanced II curriculum with Ms. Ashby (There is no Advanced III). This gives you enormous mental stamina,” Morgret-Kirks laughs wickedly. “You can do anything!”
Morgret-Kirks passed her Advanced II in 2003. Her advisors urged her to concentrate also on the second part of her dream: finding a job dancing for a professional ballet company. She wishes she had listened. “I was,” she pauses, “very immature.”
She did however, enroll in RAD’s two year teaching program. It was a tough time in her life and it was not cheap. Patti Ashby could not help because of conflict of interest rulings. Retired from teaching, Ashby had become the RAD’s US National Administrator which means, incredible as it sounds, that the head offices of the Royal Academy of Dance USA are in downtown Bakersfield.
Morgret-Kirks’ lifelong struggle with dyslexia also helped to prank her. The letter from London ratifying her credential was so ornately written, she thought for two agonizing months that she had failed. In reality, she was one of only eight Americans to become RAD certified in 2009. Revolution Ballet Academy is one of approximately 100 RAD schools nationwide.
“This month I have three students entering exams,” she says. “In three years none of them have failed. One has passed Advanced II.”
She is a demanding teacher. “I tell them ‘I want you to be a good person. I want you to know about the art of dance. I want you to be an amazing, technically clean, beautiful, professional dancer. If that’s what you want.’ ”
A great dancer, she concludes is “a healthy person, not an emotional psychological wreck damaged by the ugliness seen so often in the dance world. Otherwise,” she insists, “the art dies.”
Article appeared in our 29-1 Issue - April 2012