Learning how to prance

Student dancers mastering ballet

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When it comes to dancing, it is all about discipline, says teacher Ling Hui.

Hui, of Port Townsend, has been teaching ballet and contemporary dance to young children through adults since 1996. She specializes in the Russian Vaganova method of ballet, providing foundational knowledge of body alignment and creative movement.

“I feel like when I train the teenagers, they look so pretty,” Hui said. “Like little ponies.”

This season, Hui’s students have been working diligently to perfect the movements they need to dance in Move the Sky, Hui’s 23rd annual production. The students will perform at 7 p.m. May 31 and June 1 at Wheeler Theatre in Fort Worden. Tickets for the show are available at the Food Co-Op.

The entire production has been choreographed by Ling Hui, who said she has always been fascinated by the process of creating movements to match with music.

“Music inspires my imagination,” she said.

This year she has choreographed dance pieces to music ranging from works by minimalist composer Philip Glass, and performance artist and musician Ana Voog, to classical pieces composed by Handel, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven.

The production opens with “Fanfare,” performed by the junior and intermediate ballet dancers, and set to music by Charles Gounod. A grand and challenging classical ballet, “Fanfare” is sure to capture the attention of the audience, said Jeanne Simmons, whose daughter has been studying with Hui for the past several years.

Later in the show, six advanced ballet dancers will perform the piece “Balliamo,” Italian for “shall we dance.”

Balliamo is set to George Handel’s Italian opera, “Alcina.”

The dancers, in their lacy tutus, interpret the music beautifully, with movements Hui described as “spicy.”

A demanding and technical piece of choreography, “Balliamo” requires dozens of jumps and quick direction changes, as well as precise timing, Simmons said.

Another set by the junior ballet dancers, aged 10 to 15 and dressed in periwinkle, celebrates the season with “Spring Waltz” by Ludwig von Beethoven.

For the piece, the dancers said they feel “like birds flying” and “flowers blowing in the wind,” as well as “leaves moving in a breeze.”

The youngest of Hui’s dancers, aged 4 to 5, will take the stage in tandem with some of the most senior dancers for “Petite Swan Lake.”

The piece opens with four of Ling Hui’s young adult dancers, dressed in white with feathered head-pieces, maneuvering “en pointe” with disciplined maturity, skill and grace, Simmons said.

Set to a score by Tchaikovsky, the piece incorporates elements of traditional Swan Lake choreography. But, midway through the piece, 10 enthusiastic preschoolers in sparkly white tutus and flapping rainbow wings weave between the older dancers and take over the stage.

The younger dancers will then demonstrate some of the skills Hui has been helping them hone, including skipping sideways, tick-tocking from side to side, jumping and hopping.

Simmons said she expects the audience to be delighted by the youngsters’ exuberance as they sometimes unexpectedly deviate from their established choreography.

That is all part of the growing process, Hui said.

“I want my students to learn how to dance and have fun. I also hope they will discover themselves through dance.”

Hui said the bond she has formed with each of her students is strong. With no biological children of her own, Hui said her many students over the years have been as children to her.

“Other than my family and close family friends, Ling Hui knows me better than anyone,” said Matia, Jeanne Simmons’ daughter. “She knows my strengths and weaknesses.”

Matia, 14, began dancing with Hui when she was four-years-old.

Ila, 9, said she has become a much better dance under Ling Hui's direction.

“I’ve seen how I’ve grown in dancing from Ling Hui teaching me. I feel very graceful now."

Aimee Boulanger, mother of Jeanette, 15, and Ila, said Ling Hui teaches in a rigorous and dedicated manner that has helped them to grow as dancers.

“Her expectations are high and the dancers work hard. It is moving to see the progress they make, the metamorphosis over the course of the year from the awkward stage of learning to the beauty of a complete piece of art.”

Trained in Asia

Ling Hui was born in Taiwan, where she began dancing at the age of three.

“I started from Chinese folk dance and I learned ballet,” she said. “When I was a teenager I started to learn modern dance.”

Ling Hui studied dance in Japan and at the University of Colorado before settling down in Port Townsend, she said.

“Teaching dance was my first job and I hope it is my last,” she said.

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