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Mill Valley Resident Opens New Ballet Studio With A Focus on Healthy Dancers

Carla Escoda's new Studio C in Sausalito is based on an American Ballet Theatre curriculum with a medically approved approach. It's ideal for someone recovering from an injury, to a professional dance student.

‘No tutus oozing blood, no battered feet, no Coke-and-cigarettes diets and no one sitting on your shoulders to force your split.’ 

That’s part of the mantra that goes with Mill Valley resident Carla Escoda’s new ballet studio, Studio C, that she opened in September at Stage Dor in Sausalito.

Her kinder, gentler method is designed to be more approachable to the non-dedicated dancer, while also giving serious ballerinas the training and support they need to make it professionally — while staying healthy.

“Once you get past 10 or 11, the old style of training can be damaging to the body,” she said.

As a certified American Ballet Theatre teacher, she uses their relatively new curriculum that was developed in 2007 based on input from a panel of medical professionals in the fields of sports medicine, nutrition, physical therapy and orthopedics. It was a result of a culture of eating disorders and increased sick days that led the American Ballet Theatre to realize “we need to develop healthier dancers,” Escoda said.

The method still relies on many French, Italian and Russian techniques, while incorporating small but important changes that put less stress on muscles and joints, like not forcing a turnout or bending with a rounded back instead of a flat back.

“The objective is to end up with dancers who are very clean and pure in their technique,” she said, which ultimately should make it easier for them to adjust between different styles, like contemporary versus classical.

When she opened Studio C in September, Doree Clark, owner of the established Stage Dor dance studio, welcomed Escoda to teach ballet in her space at 10 Liberty Ship Way in Sausalito. 

“It’s a marriage,” Clark said, while joking she hopes some of her own students start taking Escoda’s classes to review some of the basics. 

So far Escoda has about 12-14 kids between 3½ -18-years-old and about a dozen adults. She offers 11 weekly drop-in classes of varying levels, plans to bring on a few new teachers next month, is preparing for a recital in June, and is gearing up for an intensive choreography workshop in the summer.

“It’s mostly spread by word of mouth,” she said of the studio’s growth. 

Her students include everyone from adults getting over injuries, to young girls with promise. 

“We want to build professional dancers too,” she said. “There’s one or two kids who have the talent, and we’ve told them so.”

If you ask a traditional ballerina about the American Ballet Theatere approach you might get mixed reactions, or no reaction at all. Although it’s been adopted by the University of North Caroline School for the Arts and Ballet San Jose, as far as she knows, she and Claudia Alfieri-Wallaceat Studio C in Fairfax are the only two teachers in the immediate Bay area trained in the curriculum. They decided to join forces, with the Sausalito studio an expansion of the Studio C name Wallace has established, to help promote each other and raise awareness about the method.

“It’s still very much in the young phase,” Escoda said. “Many dancers haven’t heard of it. I would call it a pioneering program.”

Ballet Therapy

Escoda, who trained with the Connecticut Ballet and with the Yaledancers at Yale University, was “very quickly told” she didn't have long-term career prospects as a ballerina. Devastating, yes, but she also received two engineering degrees and set off for a career in investment banking.

“I had a very short career as a dancer and I never looked back,” she said. 

But two decades later, the onset of a severe case of Osteoarthritis left her barely able to stand at times. At 46-years-old she was told she would soon need a double hip replacement and should find a regular exercise routine to strengthen her body for rehab.

After struggling through yoga, running and swimming, she finally returned to the art of her youth.

“I started doing ballet lying on my back in my kitchen,” she said. She went through the leg and arm movements, and working on her own every day, she slowly started to improve.

“After 18 months of ballet I came back so fast,” she said.

As she grew more confident with her practice and started taking group classes, her sister introduced her to the American Ballet Theatre’s approach.

“I thought, this makes so much sense for me in my situation,” she said.

Now, seven years later, she’s almost pain free and has about 10 years left on her hips.

“It’s just given me,” she said, “this whole new lease on life.”

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Yoga Love November 30, 2012 at 03:59 PM
It's a great news that Mill Valley Resident Opens New Ballet Studio With a Focus on Healthy Dancers. Hopefully this newly established studio will be able to reach its goal. Nayeema Akter www.anamayaresort.com

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