Ms. Atkins- Q and A

CDA welcomes new Artistic Director – Q & A with Melanie Atkins.

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Tell us a little bit about what brings you to the CDA at WNH?

I was approached by Michael Owen, director of Walnut Hill’s Dance department, early this year with an opportunity. Michael had just found out that Breanne and Russell were leaving and thought I might be interested in directing the Academy. The more I thought about it the more excited I became. I loved my previous job at Boston Ballet School, but once presented with this new challenge I began to think of what I might be able to bring to the table. Considering the huge role Walnut Hill played in my life it was doubly exciting to think I could be a part of the institution that means so much to me.
Can you tell us about your background in Dance, how did you get started in the dance world?

I began dancing in an after school program with my sister when I was 3. She quit after a few years, but I was hooked! My family knew nothing about ballet – luckily we discovered Walnut Hill School which helped guide me and shaped my professional career. I enjoyed an 18 year career dancing with Texas Ballet Theatre (then Fort Worth Ballet), Miami City Ballet and the Boston Ballet. I was given an opportunity to work with so many different teachers, coaches and choreographers who really prepared me for my next position in the front of the studio. Working as the Children’s Ballet Mistress for Boston Ballet, and being on the faculty of Boston Ballet School, for the last 7 years has been most rewarding. I have had the opportunity to stage ballets for the company as well as the school, teach master classes throughout the country and develop lasting relationships with my students. I am looking forward to building another family of artists at the CDA.

Who was your most influential teacher and why?

I have had a few influential teachers and coaches over the years. Two that really stand out are Elizabeth Rising and Sam Kurkjian. Ms. Rising was the director of Walnut Hill’s dance department while I was a student, and Sam was one of my primary teachers here. They were both extremely tough yet kind – Ms. Rising was very stern and we, as students, very badly wanted to earn her respect and approval. Sam would nudge us with jokes and sarcasm all while expecting our very best. I think my teaching style combines both of these amazing educators.

Did you have a mentor as a student or professional dancer?

My artistic directors have all served as mentors in some capacity. Paul Mejia, Texas Ballet Theatre, instilled a work ethic like no other! He demanded so much from his dancers yet seemed to work twice as hard as us! Edward Villella, Miami City Ballet, has such a love, enthusiasm and passion about dance that it was infectious! Mikko Nissinen, Boston Ballet, has an incredible understanding and respect for the history of dance. He makes you see the entire scope of what has come before us, what’s now, and what might be possible in the future.

If you did not become a Dancer/ Teacher what would you be doing?

Elementary school teacher or a social worker

Most interesting places you’ve danced?

One of the most wonderful things about being a professional dancer is the opportunity to tour. I’ve danced all over the United States as well as Canada, France, Italy and Spain. The outdoor theatres in Spain were amazing – although it was the middle of the summer and hot! I remember our pointe shoes sinking into the marley it was so hot! The most “interesting” however would have to be the Fox theatre in Saint Louis. When you tour a lot the theatres tend to blend into one another – you might remember a specific theatre or city, but not always which theatre goes with which city! “The Fabulous Fox Theatre” is unforgettable for it’s unique design and decor.

What is your teaching style, and what do you want to help your students achieve?

I always tell my students that I am their coach – I read an article recently where a ballet teacher said to his student “I’m not yelling at you, I’m yelling for you”. My students should think of me as their sports coach – consistently demanding their best effort. I want each of my students to achieve their full potential. An arts education is invaluable in that it teaches discipline, respect and, if done properly, a great sense of self worth and accomplishment.

Favorite Ballet or role?

I was often asked this question when I was dancing. My answer was always that it is whatever I was dancing at that moment. The journey of learning a new role, no matter how big or small, was always my favorite part of being a professional dancer. You really invest yourself and it becomes a part of you, however briefly.  I will say, however, that towards the end of my career I loved playing evil characters! I’ve danced both the Lilac Fairy and Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty – Carabosse is, by far, the funner of the two roles!

If you’re not dancing or teaching what are you doing? Where can we find you?

Usually at home just hanging out with my husband and daughter, watching a movie or reading a book.

What is your vision for the CDA?

I want the CDA to achieve its full potential. It is such a lovely place but there is still room to grow. I have been very impressed with the feeling of camaraderie our families share. Let’s build on that and, along with our fantastic faculty, create a one of a kind ballet school!

Anything you want the parents or students to know about the upcoming school year?

The most important thing is that I am accessible! Please come to me at any time with any questions or concerns. I may not always have an answer, or an answer that you like, but I am always available to discuss!

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