Now is a good time in the Charleston area to be a young person interested in dance. The options and opportunities are multiplying.
The shiny new Dance Conservatory of Charleston is up and running in a remade strip of commercial storefronts on Ashley Hall Road in West Ashley. In charge is New York City Ballet alumna Lindy Mandradjieff. She’s in good company: Colleagues include former New York City Ballet dancer Deanna McBrearty and professional dancers Lily Watkins, Monica Ball, Bo Busby, Stephen Hanna and Mara Mandradjieff.
The Dance Conservatory has been open only a few months, but its classes are filling up, probably because of the reputation of its experienced dancers-turned-teachers. Already it has been named the resident dance studio at the future Daniel Island Performing Arts Center, where McBrearty would take charge of all dance programming, including performances on two stages, master classes, family sessions, matinee performances, galas, concerts, documentary screenings and more.
“It’s not a roadhouse theater,” McBrearty said. “We want it to be where we cultivate new artists.”
The Daniel Island Performing Arts Center is not yet built, but its current capital fundraising campaign could lead to a groundbreaking later this year. South of Broadway Theatre Company, under the direction of Mary Gould, would be the resident theater group there.
Both Mandradjieff and McBrearty are well connected to a variety of dance professionals who will cycle through Charleston to work with students, they said. Next up on Sept. 9 is Jock Soto, the New York City Ballet star who wowed Lincoln Center audiences in the 1980s and 1990s.
So in a way, the conservatory already is implementing its comprehensive program. “We don’t have to wait for the Daniel Island Performing Arts Center,” McBrearty said. “We can start now.”
The new enterprise joins a list of new and established dance schools in town.
In Mount Pleasant, the Charleston Ballet Center for Dance, now located on La Mesa Road, is continuing its training of young ballet dancers whose older siblings might remember their rigorous afternoons with Don and Patricia Cantwell in the school’s previous locations. The Charleston Dance Institute on Wando Park Boulevard has a large cadre of aspiring dancers learning the ropes with Jonathan Tabbert and Stephen Gabriel, Brad Moranz and others.
On James Island, Annex Dance Company focuses on performance but teaches summer classes to those interested in modern dance.
In West Ashley, Dance Lab on Sam Rittenberg Boulevard teaches all kinds of dance styles to children and adults. And the Ballet Academy of Charleston on Savannah Highway concentrates on classical dance technique.
American National Ballet, just now forming, has announced an ambitious agenda that includes at its heart a dance conservatory. (ANB absorbed Charleston City Ballet and the Robert Ivey Ballet Academy).
Columbia City Ballet, which tours regularly, is performing in Charleston three or four times a year, usually at the Sottile Theatre. Its "Nutcracker" production puts dozens of young local dancers on stage.
Preparing for life
Mandradjieff grew up in Pittsburgh, trained first at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, then at 15 moved with a full scholarship in hand to New York City to attend the School of American Ballet, the affiliate of the New York City Ballet.
At 16, she joined the corps of the San Francisco Ballet, where she remained for four years before returning to the East Coast to join the New York City Ballet at the request of its famed director Peter Martins.
This was her dream: to dance in George Balanchine’s company. “His movement, choreography and musicality are unmatched,” she said. Mandradjieff spent four years immersed in his movement, performing numerous solo and principal roles.
In 2004, she left New York City Ballet to make a turn in her life. Soon she was back in Pittsburgh teaching ballet, at first part-time, then full-time. She was ready for the transition.
“It’s not about you anymore, it’s about giving to the next generation,” she said.
A decade later, married with a newborn child, Mandradjieff moved to Charleston. Her husband, an orthopedic surgeon, landed a job here. At the beginning of 2016 she gave birth to twins. She was in full family mode.
But ballet always was there. She taught classes and dreamed about opening her own studio. In January this year, she “had a moment,” she said.
The family was too spread out. She taught dance in Mount Pleasant. Her husband divided his time between two distant medical facilities. Her kids were attending Orange Grove Elementary Charter School in West Ashley. And the family lived in a house on James Island. It was time to consolidate a little.
Besides, a space with terrific potential, located a stone’s throw from her kids’ school, became available, and the owner was happy to renovate it according to her needs.
The Dance Conservatory of Charleston has three studios (small, medium and large), an office, a dressing area, two bathrooms, and plenty of parking. It’s a place where young dancers can learn their craft through rigorous training in a nurturing environment, Mandradjieff said. Teaching dance is a little like mothering: “I want to build and develop successful adults.”
Dance, with its emphasis on discipline, teamwork and self-motivation, prepares you for life no matter what career is pursued, she said.
Taking the next step
McBrearty also trained with the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, where she first met Mandradjieff. The two dancers were close colleagues at New York City Ballet, though McBrearty began teaching others when she was still a teenager. That made her transition from professional dancer to professional instructor pretty smooth, she said.
“Why would I have this career if it wasn’t to mentor and pass down the knowledge I gained from it?”
She moved to Charleston nine years ago, when her first child was born, and converted her garage into a dance studio, replete with sprung floor. Before long she had about 40 students. Several were especially talented. She took this select group to New York City to see Balanchine’s "Nutcracker" and visit backstage with the dancers.
By the time they were 16, she was placing her career-oriented students with important companies where they would continue their ballet education. Now, at the Dance Conservatory, she said she will be able to do more.
A big fear shared by parents of talented dancers is that their kids will leave home while still very young to pursue a career famous for its youth and brevity. But with a studio like Mandradjieff’s, which benefits from a team of professional teachers, young dancers don’t necessarily need to move away to receive great training and make important connections.
“We will be able to keep them here and train them all the way through (the final stages) and then send them off,” McBrearty said.
Mandradjieff plans to organize eight master classes a year, she said. After Soto’s appearance on Sept. 9, Jason McDole will lead a class on Sept. 30. McDole has danced with Twyla Tharp, David Parsons, Lar Lubovitch and Robert Battle's Battleworks Dance Company. Currently, he teaches contemporary and modern dance at Point Park University.
On Nov. 4, Melinda Roy comes to Charleston. Roy was a Balanchine-trained principal dancer with New York City Ballet. She is co-founder of the Saratoga Summer Dance Intensive and Vail Valley Dance Intensive, former director of Gulfshore Ballet in Fort Myers, Florida, and a Tony-nominated Broadway choreographer.
Mandradjieff also hopes her studio eventually will host summer intensive auditions, and possibly college auditions.
At the barre, her students will learn essential technique; on stage, they will learn what it’s like to perform.
“We’re creating students to be fully prepared for a professional career,” she said.