Classical ballet school hosts students from Colombia to learn the universal language of dance

07/14/2014 4:24 PM

07/16/2014 11:12 AM

Summertime often means summer camp, especially if you’re a serious dance student. The Kansas School of Classical Ballet is hosting its own intensive summer classes, but 26 of its teenage students have come all the way from Colombia to learn.

Former Kansas City Ballet dancers Juan Pablo Trujillo and Stefani Shrimpf run the Overland Park school, which is hosting 16 students from Cali, Colombia, and 10 students from Bogota, Colombia. Trujillo is from Cali and attended the same dance school as the students from that town.

“I go there twice a year,” Trujillo said. “I look at kids I’m interested in” teaching.

The Cali dancers will stay for five weeks, while the Bogota dancers will be here for two weeks. Each day, they dance from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For the first year the school invited students, he asked three students. Then it was 10, then 25 last summer. At first, Trujillo and Shrimpf, who are married, hosted the students in their home. This year, seven of the dancers are staying with them. The rest stay at a local motel.

The Colombian students came with one of their dance teachers, and she, along with Trujillo, Shrimpf and a few other teachers, will instruct all 65 of the school’s students — not just the ones from Colombia.

“Our students get to experience them, and they get to experience us,” Shrimpf said. “They make good friends with our students. They’re practicing English, and they get to see the ballet world is bigger than they thought.”

Students from Colombia are often better with technique, having studied both Cuban and Russian methods of dancing, but they can lack experience when it comes to free movement, Trujillo said.

American students are just the opposite — their technique may not be as sharp, but they’re taught to freely move with music from a young age.

Trujillo said both groups can benefit from observing each other.

“The way we dance in the United States is based on more fluidity. … We’re trying to fuse these two worlds,” Trujillo said.

There’s one catch: Most of the Colombian students don’t speak much, if any, English. For most of them, this is the first time they’ve left Colombia. Others have been to Cuba but not many other places.

“The beauty of ballet is that all the vocabulary is in French. Then, you don’t need to speak the language,” Trujillo said.

While they’re here, the students will get to experience classical ballet but also modern dance styles. Additionally, they get an introduction to Gyrotonic, a machine that allows them to “find the right muscles to use in the studio and helps with injury prevention,” Shrimpf said.

The students from Cali are special to Trujillo, not just because they come from his hometown, but because they’re from low-income families. Trujillo remembers growing up in a similar situation.

The school allows the Colombian students to attend without paying tuition but they have to pay their travel expenses. One student, who has come to Overland Park for previous summers, earned a full scholarship, covering hotel and airfare, from a local donor who has seen him perform. Trujillo hopes to be able to offer that to more students in the future.

He went to a summer ballet workshop in Houston as a teenager, and the teachers there saw something so special in him that they helped Trujillo gain a place in a professional company in Venezuela.

Shrimpf also traveled far for her ballet career. A native of Jefferson City, she moved to the prestigious Harid Conservatory, a ballet boarding school in Florida, at age 15. She and Trujillo met when they danced at the Cleveland Ballet.

By being at this workshop, the students get exposure to new methods but also get the opportunity to be seen by people from the Kansas City Ballet and other important dance organizations.

“If you have the talent, and there’s a teacher who sees you, they can make a call and connect you,” Trujillo said. “Everything I have today has been tied to ballet. We create the possibility for them to spread their wings and use ballet as a tool in life.”

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