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Day in the Life of Dance: A Conversation with Mira Cook of NYC Community Ballet

Day in the Life of Dance: A Conversation with Mira Cook of NYC Community Ballet
Theo Boguszewski

By Theo Boguszewski
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Published on February 3, 2020
Photo by Mira Cook

Thanks to NYC Community Ballet, daily ballet class no longer has to be a luxury for professional dancers!

While most dancers warm up before rehearsal, there’s no substitute for a daily technique class, which is an essential part of developing and maintaining strong, limber muscles. It’s one of the great ironies of life as a professional dancer in New York that the opportunity to take regular classes dries up. With a couple of exceptions, very few of the city’s dance companies offer company classes.

Two dancers complete an arabesque as a trio of dancers watches
Photo by Mira Cook

NYC Community Ballet founder Mira Cook moved from San Francisco to New York nine years ago to join Tribeca-based Battery Dance. Cook had been taking daily ballet class for much of her life, but after relocating, she quickly discovered that affordable opportunities were scarce. “Open classes don't offer rates commensurate with dancers' salaries,” Cook observes.

With the average ballet class costing between $17 and $22, Cook took matters into her own hands. In 2015, along with dancer friends, she founded NYC Community Ballet, a collective dedicated to providing affordable ballet classes to the professional dance community. Each class costs $5, which goes to cover the cost of the space and a stipend for the teacher.

NYC Community Ballet started very loosely — if Cook was in town, then she’d book space. If she was on tour, then classes wouldn’t happen. At the time, most of the founding members were in their early 30s and freelance contemporary dancers, who considered ballet to be their base technique. Gradually, the schedule became more consistent, and Cook accumulated a roster of teachers (now there are nine in rotation).

Dancers execute a penché
Michelle Thompson Ulerich teaches class at Battery Dance; Photo by Mira Cook

Over the years, she has been fortunate to have qualified teachers approach her. A major success was when Laura Rae Bernasconi, a favorite ballet teacher at Peridance, reached out to be part of the initiative. Cook has used a grassroots social media approach to boost awareness. While attendance has grown continuously, most classes fortunately still have room for new students.

So what can you expect from an NYC Community Ballet class? Each one is different depending on who is teaching, but there is an emphasis on treating participants like adults. Most teachers will offer general feedback without singling anyone out extensively. With a mission of taking the stiffness out of ballet class, many teachers use their own music, so you could find yourself doing tendus to Billy Joel or petit allégro to Dolly Parton.

Dancers extend their left leg forward in croisé
Gabrielle Lamb teaches class at Brooklyn Studios for Dance; Photo by Mira Cook

In terms of keeping class at a certain caliber, Cook finds that students tend to self-select. “We originally billed it as ‘intermediate-advanced,’ but we had some beginners show up, so we changed it to ‘advanced,’" she explains.

Most classes take place at the Battery Dance studios (380 Broadway), but in the past, NYC Community Ballet has had a residency at Brooklyn Studios for Dance, and they have an upcoming residency at Gibney.

Want to take a class? The schedule can be found HERE. Classes take place on Tuesday and Friday morning at Battery Dance Studios in Tribeca and every Saturday at Gibney Dance from 2/1-3/28.

The Dance Enthusiast’s DAY IN THE LIFE covers the stories behind dance/performance and creates conversation. For more behind-the-scenes stories from NYC and beyond, click here.

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