Owner of Storybook Ballet helps youngsters discover the beauty of ballet | local government
RILEY VETTERKIND Wisconsin State Journal
Ever since she was a little girl, Meredith Mast has found happiness in the traditions and traditions of ballet.
As in the pages of a book, Mast, a former professional ballet dancer, achieved escapism and sometimes even transcendence in the arabesques and folds of ballet. And for more than 20 years, Mast has created a way for young people to experience the beauty of classical ballet through the pages of a book at Storybook Ballet, located at the Hilldale Mall.
Mast, 50, of North Freedom, focuses on teaching the basics and technique of classical ballet to children ages 3 to 9, with the added bonus of combining new stories, costumes and choreography to add to the ‘experience. Mast and his mother have written a series of original children’s books that are incorporated into the dance curriculum, one of which is published.
Mast grew up in Miami and started dancing when she was around 4 years old. At age 9, she was studying ballet six days a week and was accepted into Houston Ballet’s summer program at age 14. At 16, she left home to train full-time with the Houston Ballet and turned professional at 17. as a professional dancer, but decided to quit ballet due to frequent injury issues.
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Mast then switched gears and went to college, earning a degree in psychology. Mast and her husband eventually moved to Wisconsin, where she started a ballet studio for young children that incorporated fairy tales, one of Mast’s favorite aspects as a ballerina.
What is a memorable memory related to your career as a dancer?
I remember the first time my family came to see me play Clara in Houston Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’, which was a big hit, and we were playing at the Wortham Theater, and it was this beautiful theater with a red velvet carpet and chandeliers. , and having my whole family there to see me play Clara was very exciting, like your whole life you’ve worked for this kind of thing.
What attracts you to ballet?
I always think of ballet as a visual form of music, so you really bring the music to life. And I always felt like I was in another world, it was very spiritual for me to dance. I felt like when I was dancing on stage I was lost in another world, basically bringing this music to life and telling these stories. I was drawn to it at a very young age. It was challenging, but fulfilling, and I’ve always loved the aesthetic, the lines you do in ballet, it’s just so beautiful.
I remember as a dancer, I really felt almost ethereal when I danced. There is no line between the music and your movement.
What makes your dance studio unique?
I feel like we can spend more time focusing on the fundamentals of classical ballet and building a strong foundation, when you don’t just worry about putting together a bunch of dances and putting them on stage.
How can ballet, or dance more generally, help a child’s development?
I think there are so many benefits of studying ballet for kids. The non-physical benefits I would say would be focus, listening skills, discipline, etiquette, body awareness, spatial awareness, musicality and then the physical aspects of course learning our body, strength building, coordination building, flexibility, and then with all of that, kids are taught the beauty of ballet, the history of ballet, the traditions of ballet.
What is the advantage of starting ballet so young?
We make it clear that all 3 are not in the right place to start the ballet class, but we start working on the fundamentals right away, but in a very creative environment. This promotes their love of movement, which is very inherent in children. Kids love to move, so we take that and try to nurture that and teach them ballet, and learn how to move their bodies, and we start building the foundations of classical ballet. As they get a bit older, we work more on classical ballet. At 3 years old, we also work a lot on motor skills and listening.
What other aspects of your ballet teaching philosophy would you like to describe?
We focus on technique, we focus a lot on etiquette, our manners in ballet class, respect for the teacher, respect for the ballet studio. We end with what’s called bowing, and that’s when you bow and bow at the end of class, and we clap, and that’s a way of showing respect to your teacher and your classmates at the end of the lesson. They do things like take their turn, learn not to talk when the teacher is talking, and then we also have the fairy tale component, which is a whole different component, where we expose them to fairy tales, stories that they may not have heard before. We take these stories and bring them to life with our acting, our dances and our costumes.
Tell me about the stories you incorporate into your lessons.
I published a book myself, and we wrote six that we use here. My mom and I wrote the stories together, and we decided to go ahead and try to publish one, which we did, and we’re dancing it here. We also dance the other stories, and so they were written specifically with our ballet lessons in mind, so they’re written to fit into the class setting.
Why did you want to focus on teaching young children?
The original reason we started with the youngsters was actually related to my own family. I live an hour from here, I have four children and my husband is a firefighter in Madison. When he works, he left at night, so I couldn’t have evening classes because I had to go home. When I started Storybook, the majority of our classes were in the morning and very early in the afternoon, and when 4-K started, that really started our morning enrollment, and so we ended up adding more classes in the afternoon, and we ended up having so many people on the waiting lists, that we would add another class after that. The original intention to focus on children was because of my own personal family, but also because we had so many students, so we were really able to build a school just around those young people.