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Ballerina girls learn from a pro

Newhall Community Center classes for all levels, incomes

Posted: September 10, 2009 10:14 p.m.
Updated: September 11, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Dance teacher Suzette Marechal, right, and student Rachel Moneymaker.

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“Alright sweet peas! Let’s do our frog stretch,” Suzette Marechal said. “Lay on the floor on your tummy with your legs slightly bent in the air. This stretches your hips.”

Six girls dressed in ballet attire followed their teacher’s instructions and positioned themselves on the floor like little frogs.

“Now look at yourself in the mirror and square yourself off,” Marechal said.

Marechal, of Newhall, teaches ballet to children at the Newhall Community Center, which offers a variety of year-round classes at affordable prices. She has taught classes at the community center for the past two years.

“I started with one ballet class,” Marechal said. “This is the first year I’m teaching two classes since there is a high demand for it.”

Marechal currently teaches ballet for beginners on Friday evenings and ballet for more advanced learners on Monday evenings. “They get bored if you keep them doing the same thing for two years,” Marechal said. “The split helps separate the different levels.”

Marechal, a dance instructor since 1990, makes her own syllabus incorporating all dance styles. Her own extensive background includes — but is not limited to — classical ballet, Royal Academy Dance, Russian style and Cecchetti — an Italian method of classical ballet.

“It allows me to see the girls and what they are capable of and then adjust accordingly,” she said. “No class is ever the same. Some moves are repeated so that their bodies can get used to the movement, but they learn something new every day.”

Girls taking the class don’t just learn first, second, and third ballet positions. Marechal expands their horizons with everything ballet encompasses, including foreign language.

“Ballet terms are in French, so they learn a bit of French while they’re here,” Marechal said. “My students also learn stage positions during practice — as if they were performing.”

Music is another area of discovery for Marechal’s class. “They lie down at the end of class and I ask them to focus while I play music. I’ll put on opera or Celtic music,” she said.

Some music takes time to appreciate. “They laugh at opera,” she said.

The education doesn’t stop there.

“I’ll bring in books and show them pictures of ballerinas and their costumes and teach them a bit of history,” she said.

As a ballerina herself, Marechal also likes to play “show and tell,” bringing her dance shoes in for the students to touch, then putting them on for a demonstration. “They learn more than just classical ballet. They learn so much, they don’t know they’re doing it, but they are,” Marechal said.

The classes at the Newhall Community Center run for 10 weeks and end with a show.

“I choreograph little pieces and the girls then perform it for their parents,” Marechal said.

Marechal picks a theme for each group to work with, and then the ballerinas run with it.

“We had a fairy theme where the girls dressed up as fairies,” Marechal said. “We had a pink panther theme, too, where the girls wore pink and danced to the pink panther theme song.”

The show isn’t only an opportunity for the young ballerinas to show off what they learned throughout the 10-week session, they get to see a free show, too.

“The past three showcases I’ve brought in some singers, a boy doing karate, a couple who did a skit from theatre — the girls loved it,” she said.

Marechal doesn’t expect her students to spend an extravagant amount of money on costumes or slippers.

“Dance shoes can cost up to $40, my class can go to Payless for their slippers. I don’t demand that they go to high-end dance shops to buy the best gear,” she said. “This class is very loose. If they come in with shorts on and barefoot, I won’t kick them out.”

The cost of ballet classes can be pricey for some individuals, and that excludes ballerina gear and attire. According to Marechal, ballet classes at other studios go for $16 for one class. And that’s after a $20 registration fee.

The program at Newhall Community Center is economically designed, Marechal said. The community center offers 10-week classes for $10.

“This is real doable for most people,” Marechal said. Marcel’s usual rate to teach at dance studios is $35 per hour.

When asked what she looks forward to learning, Nancy Barron, 8, of Newhall, wants to learn how to “go up on your tippy-toes.”

Naida Morales, 7, of Newhall wants to dance with boys. “I like it when they lift and hold the girl in the air,” she said.

Watching the young girls’ enthusiasm about ballet at the center makes it all worth it for Marechal.

“My first ballet class was through a Parks and Recreation in Virginia on a basketball floor. I was 11 years old,” she said. “I’m honored to teach these classes. It’s like a full circle.”

For more information about the ballet classes or other activities at the center, contact Community Center Supervisor Julie Calderon at the Newhall Community Center at (661) 286-4006 or e-mail her at  


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