Inspiring young ballet dancers to achieve excellence through their technique and love of the art, WestMet Classical Training in Long Lake provides preprofessional guidance to students interested in pursuing a serious career in concert dance.
Open since May 2020 (for virtual classes, later expanding to in-person instruction), Allynne Noelle and Thomas Brown used their knowledge from their extensive dance careers to develop a place that inspires students to achieve their dreams. The program is home to four skill set levels with less than 10 dancers in each to encourage personal growth through individualized critiques. Practicing an average of 17 hours a week, the training structure prepares dancers to, hopefully, receive scholarships or placements in top-ranking ballet schools, leading to professional careers. “Our goal is to train these dancers and equip them in the best way possible,” Noelle says.
In addition to teaching technical elements, Noelle says that gaps in the traditional style of training must be addressed to prepare dancers for professional careers. Emphasizing the importance of professionalism, the school also focuses on career skill sets beyond just body movement. “Fantastic technique and a beautiful body can only get you so far if you can’t truly function as a professional in a company,” she says. “[Brown] and I started WestMet Classical Training to really offer that fully holistic understanding of what it means to be a classical dancer.” She continues, “I thought that it was unfair for young dancers to get thrown [to] the wolves and have this expectation on them that they are supposed to know how you should operate and what you are supposed to do. It is kind of a sink or swim moment.”
Addressing elements, such as embracing what it means to be an understudy, learning how to act on stage and understanding character dance (a subdivision of classical ballet that focuses on theatrical elements in song and movement), the school creates an environment where individuals can have conversations about roles and learn the necessary skill sets to achieve success.
In addition to the work in the studio, WestMet also prepares dancers for on-stage experiences. Each year, the school prepares for a Nutcracker performance at the Westonka Performing Arts Center (unfortunately cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19) and a June performance series. In addition, dancers compete in the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP), an international classical ballet scholarship program, featuring a competition that provides exposure and opportunities for young dancers to train at other prestigious ballet schools around the world. From summer programs, short-term stays and even boarding schools, the YAGP provides exposure for their future careers.
Though WestMet requires an audition to join the school, its approach to gaining new members is different from some studios in the area. To ensure that individuals are the right fit, Noelle says that they “get to know each dancer, their skill set and facility” through one-on-one interviews and a 30-day trial period. “It is important to get to know the dancers, their learning curve and their personality in class,” she says. “It is a way to give them an actual adjustment period to make sure that it is what they want … and they are happy as much as we are happy.”
For 15-year-old WestMet student Ava Tellier, it was the school’s inviting environment and unique teaching style that drew her in to join. Taking ballet, jazz and tap lessons since she was 5 years old, Ava was able to experience WestMet’s approach three years ago at Summit Dance Shoppe, where the Noelle and Brown once co-directed the ballet program. “I think that each [ballet] class was different, so I was never bored,” Ava says about her experience at Summit. “Each class was really fun and something new.”
Originally considering ballet as her least favorite dance style, Ava says that she was drawn to the art form after working with Noelle and Brown. “I fell in love with it,” she says. “I literally owe it all to them.”
For the last few years, Ava has heavily focused on ballet. Practicing 20 hours a week, she hopes to attend the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle upon high school graduation. “[Dance] is something that I enjoy doing a lot,” she says. “I also like that it is always something that I can work on because I know that it is not always going to be perfect. I just really love it.”
Brown and Noelle bring a host of experience to WestMet. While beginning at different starting points, careers brought the now-married couple together, eventually landing in Minnesota.
As a Florida native, Brown fell in love with ballet by the age of 14, attended Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville and later joined the Richmond Ballet, where he spent most of his career (2003-2015.) With the company, he performed multiple principal roles in ballet classics, such as Giselle and Swan Lake in places like the Egg in Beijing, the Royal Opera House in London and The Grand Shanghai Theatre. Joining The Suzanne Farrell Ballet in Washington, D.C., in 2015, he continued to expand his principal role experience, working in ballet, contemporary and modern styles.
Noelle began her professional career at 15 years old at the Los Angeles Classical Ballet and later at Inland Pacific Ballet in California. Upon graduation, she moved to Florida to join the Miami City Ballet, where she danced as a soloist for seven seasons. Progressing in her career, she joined the National Ballet of Canada. Her time there ended shortly after a serious foot injury caused her to return to California. She later joined the Los Angeles Ballet Company, where she danced for five seasons as the lead principal and started her own summer intensive for young dancers, starred in award-winning short dance films and held guest principal roles throughout California.
Noelle joined The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, where she met Brown. Developing as dancers, they began guest teaching at various studios and became co-directors of the ballet program at Summit Dance Shoppe in Plymouth, their first experience teaching at a competition studio. The couple shares the title as YAGP Outstanding Teachers in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
WestMet serves as a jumping point for dancers, who aspire to develop a professional career. Gaining entrance into prestigious summer training programs is one way to achieve that goal. WestMet dancers have been accepted into the following summer programs:
The Royal Ballet, London
Paris Opera Ballet, France
Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Canada
School of American Ballet (SAB), New York
Ballet West, Utah
Next Generation Ballet Intensives at Patel Conservatory, Florida
Pacific Northwest Ballet, Washington
University of North Carolina School of the Arts
Boston Ballet, Massachusetts
Académie Princesse Grace, Monaco