TRD New Academy Director Jaime Simpson – Keeping Creative Energy Present

Words and Images courtesy of Jaime Simpson.

About two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to teach one of our TRDance students a virtual private lesson. She was at home, I was at the TRDance Center, and we were each logging in to Zoom to embark on an hour and a half ballet lesson. I had everything set up and had admitted her from the “waiting room.” Her video and audio came on, we smiled and happily said our greetings. What she said next definitely got my attention… she said, “This is the first time I’ve been able to see your whole face!” 

I had my mask off for this lesson since I was the only person in the studio, and I had the door shut. She had started taking classes at TRD earlier this summer, and until that particular lesson, she had only ever seen me with a mask on. I said, “Wow, that’s true! I didn’t realize that!” We smiled at each other again and started dancing. 

I have thought about that moment several times since. About how much has changed… in the dance world and everywhere. 

At TRDance specifically, many adjustments have been made to keep opportunities to dance and perform going, with health and safety being of utmost importance: we have specific cleaning processes in place; a mask policy for dancers, staff, and guests; limited class sizes; temperature checks; and more. We are offering many of our classes as hybrid options, giving dancers the opportunity to join the class virtually from home. In addition, all classes are set up so that they can shift to be fully virtual if we need to do so temporarily; the instructors are all experienced with teaching virtually and are ready to transition if that becomes necessary. 

In my third month as Academy Director, I have many goals. The most prominent of which, for the foreseeable future, is to keep as many dancers dancing as possible, as safely as possible. The art of dance has such an uplifting and healing effect, infusing joy and vibrancy into the spirit. It is so important to keep that creative energy present and glowing. Our Fall Structured and Open Class Programs are underway, and I am excited to announce that we have just added three new classes to the Open Program. In November, we will be holding weekend Master Classes in various dance styles. 

We are also currently building our new Pod-Style Dance Class Program which offers dance classes to children who are already working within a pod group for academics and other activities. These classes take place in the afternoon, prior to our evening Open and Structured Program classes. 

Regarding Academy performances, the Todd Rosenlieb Dance Ensemble and Virginia Ballet Theatre Ensemble came together this summer for a successful Virtual Solo Concert made up of 12 newly choreographed solos. Though the process was unique for the Ensemble groups, the dancers and choreographers were thrilled to be creating, and the results were everything that was hoped for. The Ensembles will soon be moving into rehearsals for another virtual show to be presented in December. 

Though so much has changed, I believe two things will always remain the same – the passion for dance, and the desire to dance. Dancers, instructors, choreographers, and directors here at TRD and everywhere are ready and willing to navigate this new path and adjust as needed to be able to safely move forward with this art form. I am at the TRDance Center every day, and every day I see the sparkle 

of excitement in the dancers’ eyes as they arrive for classes. And though their masks may keep me from seeing their smiles, I know that they are there. 

For general information on TRDance, please visit trdance.org.
For specific information on class programs or Ensembles, please email Jaime Simpson at academy@trdance.org.
If you would like to make a donation to support TRDance, please visit trdance.org/donate

Jaime Simpson began her ballet training at age 6, with opportunities to study at the Virginia Beach Ballet Academy, Maryland Youth Ballet, North Carolina School for the Arts, and Richmond Ballet. She then received her Bachelor’s Degree in Ballet Performance from Indiana University, training with Patricia McBride, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, and Violette Verdy. Jaime began teaching ballet while at IU, working with college students as well as students in the youth program. Since returning to Hampton Roads in 2005, Jaime has taught all levels of ballet and pointe at several area schools, and has choreographed ballet pieces for VBBA, Arts Enter Cape Charles, TRDance Center, and the VBT Ensemble.

TRD and VBT Ensemble Virtual Summer Solo Concert

Words by Dr. Lynette Hauser,
Associate Director TRDance Ensemble, and 
Jaime Simpson, Associate Director VBT Ensemble
and TRDance Academy Director
Images by Sara Bobulinski

Todd Rosenlieb Dance Ensemble and the Virginia Ballet Theater Ensemble will be performing their Summer Solo Concert virtually this year. Ticket holders will be able to view the concert from Saturday, August 15, 2020 at 8 pm through Monday August 17, 2020 at 10 pm.

The dancers of the Todd Rosenlieb Dance Ensemble and Virginia Ballet Theatre Ensemble consist of high school, college and post college graduates. They will be performing solo works in both modern and ballet. 

The concert is a collection of mostly new original pieces, along with one solo variation from a full length classical ballet. The original works were choreographed by current TRD and VBT company members, TRD Academy instructors, GSA graduates, and other Hampton Roads locals. In May, both Ensembles put out a call for choreographers, who then submitted a video of their concept. A virtual audition for dancers followed, and the choreographers were able to work with the Ensemble Directors to cast their dancers from those selected. The pieces are quite diverse in theme and character, and were inspired by personal experiences, music, nature, and current political and social themes. 

The majority of the pieces in the concert were recorded in the Benjack Studio Theater inside the TRDance Center, and one was filmed on location in Norfolk. 

A male dancer in black pants and a white t-shirt appears to be running while leaning backwards, giving the impression of a grand movement.

The ensemble concert is an annual summer occurrence at the Benjack Studio Theater, although this year we had to reimagine the concept in order to put together a performance without a live audience. We knew that dancers and choreographers were itching to move and create; we were excited to establish this virtual performance that allowed a safe space for them to share their artistry.

In the initial stage of this process, virtual auditions were definitely an adjustment; seeing multiple dancers on a screen is a significant change from seeing them dancing in person. During filming, we discovered just how much stage lighting for video differs from how lighting would be used for a live performance. What looks dim and muted in person is much brighter on video, so we changed how we used the lights and adjusted costumes as a result. 

We are thankful to have the opportunity to bring a performance to the community this summer. The arts are such an amazing way to relate and connect; though we may not all be in the same space for this concert, we are thrilled to still have the chance to share the art of dance.

Anyone looking to purchase tickets can do so here.

The Beauty of Dance: Spotlight on Todd Rosenlieb and TRDance

Words by Moriah Joy.
Photos courtesy of TRDance.

As performances and classes are moving into a virtual environment, some artforms encounter more challenges than others. However, as creativity is at the center of the arts, places like TRDance in Norfolk have been able to overcome these roadblocks. I had the pleasure of sitting down with one of the founding members and the Artistic Director, Todd Rosenlieb. Todd started dancing in college where he very quickly realized the passion that he had for concert dance and decided to pursue an M.F.A. in Performance & Choreography at the prestigious Tisch School of the Arts in New York. From there his career evolved as he has served as a dancer and choreographer for various companies and institutions as well as Company Director for the Erick Hawkins Dance Company. Then seeing the need in Hampton Roads for a professional dance presence, he decided to establish his own studio which has now been flourishing in the community for almost fifteen years.

A male dancer lifts a female dancer gracefully in a museum.
TRDance celebrates the Munch Exhibit.

As of this moment, Todd’s focus is on his Norfolk studio and nurturing the skills of dancers of every age, style, and ability. After the shutdown, they quickly moved to online classes and have been successful in maintaining their class schedule with their teachers of high notoriety. They are currently offering a variety of classes every week featuring the dance styles of jazz, modern, ballet, pointe, tap, hip-hop, and pilates. At the studio, inclusion is at the forefront of their mission, whether that is offering a safe space for members of the LGBT community or those with mixed abilities such as Down Syndrome and Autistic Spectrum Disorder. 

“…By celebrating your artform, the discipline [of dance], you can encourage and accept diversity and inclusion, all people. No matter their abilities or their gender or their race, anything. It’s so important that the human form be represented not the individual or any preconceived notions about them.”

Their mixed abilities classes came about 10 years ago after a grandmother approached Todd wanting to provide the same kind of opportunities for her grandson as other children. The words she used in describing her grandson have been an inspiration to Todd and his program ever since as she said her grandson “came to us with Down’s Syndrome.” She had seen some stories about adaptive dance classes on the Oprah Winfrey show and was interested in starting a program in the Hampton Roads area.

MixMo class group photo
TRDance’s MixMo class.

“I knew nothing about it. I was like okay, ‘I love you, let’s try this.’ She was very active in the Down Syndrome Association of Hampton Roads and we had seven or eight kids in our very first class. I gotta tell you- the first class after 25 minutes I was out of tricks. I thought, I am not prepared for this. But [after] I applied creativity, reading the room, knowing I had done my research of course, and was working with physical therapists from CHKD as part of the collaboration- it became amazing, joyful.”

TRDance has since expanded their classes working with various organizations such as St. Mary’s Home, the South Eastern Virginia Training Center, the Ability Center of VA Beach, and many more. Todd’s original program has come full circle as the very first student who inspired the program ten years ago has been able to rejoin their classes, despite having moved away five years ago. The virtual classes have allowed for reunions amongst various students as well as the instructors to see how they’ve grown from children to young adults. These reunions truly show the strength of the dance community lies within the dancers, not the distance between them. Along with the dancers being connected, the families of those involved are also a big part of the dance community. One of the ways in which TRDance is hoping to show their appreciation to the families is by doing a virtual cocktail party for the adults and dance party for the kids with a DJ to continue that sense of connectivity. 

A zoom class for MixMo.
TRDance’s MixMo Zoom classes allow students who have moved away to participate again.

As the worries of the world have been very difficult for many community members to bear, Todd has also been leading guided meditations as a way to engage in “constructive rest.” One of the techniques he uses in his meditations is the idea of putting worries, concerns, or anything else that weighs heavy into a backpack. This idea has the beautiful implication that our worries are only as strong as we allow them to be and do not make us who we are. Todd also stressed the importance of mental well-being so that as individuals we can be better equipped to help those who depend on us and ultimately make a better nation. He has used dance as a way to have conversations about the importance of mental health as previously partnering with the Chrysler Museum. The beginning of both his dance sessions and guided meditations start with the notion of simply allowing the experience.  

“Leave your ego at the door. There is no success or failure here, we are experiencing our bodies, our minds, the music, our imagery, our companionship and our friendship all together in one room.”

While dance is beautiful to enjoy and watch on TV or through viral videos, there is an uniqueness to the environment that is created when going to see a show live. Feeling the music echo through your ears, with the soft whispers and commentary of fellow participants, along with the exuberance passed between dancer and active participant. The true beauty within that experience is something that Todd calls “the interpretive web.” He joked about how people will come up to him after a performance to ask what a dance meant, replying with inquisitiveness to ask what it meant to them, then upon listening to their interpretation finding sometimes that he liked it better than what he had in mind. 

TRDance company and alumni group shot.
TRDance company and alumni.

“Dance can be scary to people. They are afraid they’re not going to know what it means. It doesn’t matter if it makes you feel an emotion. Everyone sees through the eyes of their experience, be it touch or gesture or form or shape that relates to your life…your emotional status,…your relationship status. That’s what the meaning of art is, to touch the human being, to look deeper than what it might look like if it wasn’t a part of their life.”

For anyone seeking a way to engage with an artistic community, grow as a dancer, or simply just try a new way to stay healthy and active, check out the TRDance website for more information.