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Central California Life Magazine

California Arts Academy: An Inside Look At Ballet Department Director Carla Lippert

May 11, 2016 05:23PM ● By Melanie Heisinger
Last month, the Ballet Department featured an event, "For the Love of Dance," where young dancers showcased their skill sets, as well as their original routines and even pieces. We were lucky enough to get in touch with the director of that show, Carla Lippert, and hear her story.

California Arts Academy has been around since the early 2000s, inspiring young performers to refine their craft, and perform for their loved ones. Founded by Chris Campbell and Julie Ann Keller, who initially purchased Cynthia Merrill's studio, they wanted to provide a more professional space for aspiring young performers. 

Carla's history with ballet is rich and exciting. "Just briefly," she states. "I had a 20 year career 
Carla Lippert with one of her students.

 split between American Ballet Theatre and Boston Ballet. I began in the corps de ballet and moved up to soloist and joining Boston Ballet as a principal." 

As an after thought, she added, "Oh yes, I also was a bronze medalist in the Jackson International Ballet Competition in 1982. It was a great experience and is a great story with a documentary about that year." Her humble approach to her own history was evident the rest of the interview. 

Though we are very curious to learn more about this documentary, it was important to get back to the California Arts Academy, their history, and learn more about the Ballet Department. 

According to Carla, when California Arts Academy was first created, she was with Severance at the time, another dance studio in the area.

"I was teaching at Severance for Chris and Francoise Doyle," Carla said. "I continued there until they left town around 2007. Things were pretty rough at Severance at that time. The business was sold, separating it from the building, and we rented space in a business park on Escalon and Blackstone. We were owned for a short time by Happy Hearts Dance until Chris and Julie Ann bought us and the building, reuniting the business and the building, which goes back to the days of Byron Kay."

Around 2008, Carla joined the California Arts Academy (CAA) team, and has happily been with them ever since. 

Carla now heads the ballet department, and she was willing to answer a few of our questions, so read on to find out more about the CAA and the Ballet Department's mission. 

What are your goals for the group and where do you see it heading? What sort of activities will you focus on?

: The goals for the Ballet Department of CAA are to train students in the art form of classical ballet and the joys of dance. We are well aware that there is a small percentage of students able to make a career of this but there is so much more that they can derive from this training - discipline, poise, creativity, athleticism, musicality, culture, self-esteem, self awareness, working in groups, etiquette in the classroom, presentation onstage, achieving goals, and so much more!
As far as goals, we are slowly working on becoming an American Ballet Theatre (ABT) Certified studio, beginning with certifying the teachers. We feel this curriculum has been well researched for the overall health, age appropriate demands and progression of any available. 

We would also like to eventually be a part of the Regional Dance Association some day, to give the students more advantages to perform and see the dance world outside of Fresno.

We would like to see the program grow in giving Fresno a ballet studio producing professionals in all walks of life, with an appreciation and joy of dance.

What's something people usually assume about CAA? What do people usually assume that's incorrect?

CL: Not quite sure how to answer that one! I don't really know what people assume of us. As far as ballet goes, many assume that training in classical ballet is just for girls, is pretty, cute, fluffy and boring. They have missed so much in that assumption! Yes, it is many of those things, certainly, but it is an art and therefore with a little education, one finds that it is beautiful, diverse, serious, comedic, and yes at times boring. But we all have different tastes and must try new things to find that.

What is your personal favorite aspect of the CAA and your mission?

CL: I like that we have so many types of dance and that each department is supportive of the other. I like that one of the goals is to spread the joy of dance and through that, educate the public in opening their minds to the world of art.

What's the funniest, strangest, most unusual thing people have asked you?

CL: You actually get paid for this?! There is a dancers Union!? I, along with many of my colleagues, were well paid and vested in American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA).

What are some recent or upcoming changes that people should know about?

CL: My department just finished performing our Spring Concert April 22 and 23. We have many productions upcoming and invite you to visit our website! We also have our summer intensives with wonderful guest teachers beginning in June and going on about every two weeks throughout the summer. This is in addition to our regular classes.

Summer programs sound great! Is there an age limit? 

CL: Call 222-6539 and sign up! There are many activities for all ages and interests!

How was creating original work and having it performed? Was it the first time your work was performed and presented? 

Dancer Kiara Actis

CL: I stayed away from choreographing my own works, preferring to set the classics for many years. But as time went on, I got a little more at home with the idea and began first with Severance, then with the ABT summer intensive I teach for in Alabama. I enjoy the process and feel I have improved in my approach and skills. I love working with the dancers and watching them try new things, experiment with music and grow with their challenges.

The first time I set a ballet was in Sacramento on the company I grew up with. My teacher, Marguerite Phares wanted to do a full length "Sleeping Beauty" with an orchestra! It was a huge undertaking as I was performing with ABT at the same, time but it came off very well and we performed it for  3 or 4 years after that! It was a wonderful adventure and I will always be grateful to her for having confidence in me to do it!

There are some great upcoming shows being performed at the CAA, as well as some great summer classes. Be sure to visit their website or their Facebook Page, and catch their next show, Cinderella! 

Thank you to Carla for taking the time to answer our questions.