Today our 10 Questions With… features Michael Cornell, developer of the Align Ballet Method…
1. How did you become involved in dance and what is your background?
I loved my middle school art class and the process of learning in a studio environment. I was fairly talented with the pencil, and my teacher kept handing me photos of Baryshnikov to draw. These photos expressed an athletic power, yet also communicated simplicity and purity. I was immediately drawn to these elements.
I eventually was awarded a scholarship to The National Academy of The Arts in Champaign, Illinois and then the Pennsylvania School of Ballet summer program. There I was offered an apprenticeship with the company, but I had already made a commitment to work with BalletMet in Columbus, Ohio. I spent 10 years with BalletMet, and looking back I am very grateful I had the opportunity to work with many of the world’s notable, innovative movement artists. My family was not very culturally minded, but they were open-minded enough to let me explore what probably seemed like a strange pursuit for a young man. Studying ballet was definitely my decision.
2. What are you currently doing in the field?
I have been teaching in Los Angeles for ten years. A little over a year ago I started a class called BALLET 101, which has evolved into the ALIGN BALLET METHOD. This is a unique program I have developed to help adults learn the fundamentals of classical ballet.
We have a roster of about 120 full time students who are working at various stages of development. Our goal is to provide a gateway, where adults with no prior experience have the opportunity to experience authentic ballet training at the highest level. Our unique ALIGN method helps them gain skills rapidly.
3. Would you explain a bit about how the Align Ballet Method works?
I have developed a unique training system that allows adults to enter and progress at their own comfort level. My team and I have found the results of this method to be very powerful. We are not a fusion-based ballet workout class. We provide true ballet training. When you observe our class, it looks much like any other beginning adult class. It is what you don’t see and hear that sets us apart. I think we have crafted a streamlined approach to the process of ballet training.
We enable adults to go from no ballet experience to a basic intermediate level in only 20 weeks. They can complete a full barre, pirouettes, adagio, and small jumps in center. Most importantly, they are given the tools to make this training a permanent aspect of their lifestyles. Our classes provide a contemporary American style of ballet training that focuses on natural body alignment. We help each student work with and beyond their own personal strengths and limitations.
The method is also deeply rooted in my own experience learning this art form. I was not supposed to be a ballet dancer: I lacked flexibility; I had terrible feet, bowed legs and no musicality. Everything was a disaster. My teachers, other students, and even our pianist told me I was not going to have a professional career.
I can relate to my students’ difficulties, because I had all the same limitations. I didn’t have the body for ballet. I understand the struggle. Utilizing all this information, I have created a method that absolutely simplifies and demystifies the process of balletic training for adults. I discuss and continue to perfect this process with my team in great detail.
4. Can you tell readers why you decided to focus on the age groups/levels that you did?
I had moved to Hollywood and was working as a personal trainer when I began teaching ballet to adults. Ballet technique was something I knew very well (probably better than anything else). I just wanted to teach for fun, because I thought it was cool, and not that many people were doing this. It seemed no one wanted to teach beginning adults. I welcomed anyone into my class and just wanted to help people stretch and have some fun. It was a blast. Over time my classes kept getting more crowded and my students became solid dancers. One day I realized I had to create a program where beginners could start from the basics.
5. How long did it take to get this system put together, and what were the biggest challenges in doing so?
I knew exactly how I was going to structure the first 6 weeks of classes, before I even stepped into the studio. I had worked with so many beginners in the past few years that I just knew how to proceed. My regular classes had built a loyal following and the students had developed great skills. When a beginner walked into the studio at that point, it was difficult to give them the attention they needed.
The whole ALIGN system of 1,2, and 3 program took a year to design, but it was an organic process. I just kept everyone progressing and moving forward. At one point it hit me how seriously my beginners were taking the classes. This forced me to dig even deeper.
I was now faced with a room full of adult bunheads, who were ready to rock the ballet floor. I had created this very focused little academy of adults. The satisfaction I got from that was beyond my expectations.
6. What type of feedback have you received on this system?
We have had glowing reviews on both Google and Yelp, and our retention rate is very high. Students stay with us, and that says a lot about what we are doing. Just recently the referrals to ALIGN have increased dramatically. I am most proud that the dancers you see on our website are the actual people who come to class. And they look amazing. This is why we feature our own students in our marketing.
7. How are adult ballet students different than other students?
I am now just beginning to teach children and it is incredibly fun. I love how enthusiastic and surprisingly focused they are. My natural instinct is to encourage them even more than our adult students, because they deserve to believe in themselves regardless of their genetic potential. They need to know that just showing up and meeting this thing as a challenge is something to be proud of.
8. What are the biggest challenges in teaching this demographic?
We at the ALIGN BALLET METHOD have had an incredible time working with our adults. The focus and dedication they have shown has been inspirational for us. I can’t even say that there have been many challenges, because we see those as opportunities.
Our mission is to help adults find both a mental and physical balance with this work and explore this amazing dance technique to its full potential.
9. What are the biggest rewards of teaching adult ballet students?
We are very lucky to get to do what we do. Adult students show you such gratitude and love when you help them. They get so inspired and that seems to positively affect other aspects of their lives.
10. What is next for you?
I am excited to continue working with my team, dedicate more to each student, and further develop the ALIGN BALLET METHOD.
BIO: ALIGN BALLET METHOD creator and artistic director Michael Cornell is a graduate of the National Academy of Arts in Champaign, Illinois. He studied with Royal Ballet dancer Petrus Bosman and American master teacher Robert Dicello. After completing a scholarship with the Pennsylvania School of Ballet, Michael joined the innovative BalletMet of Columbus, Ohio and stayed with the company for 10 years.
Michael’s powerful skills as a contemporary dancer led him to perform principle roles in original work by David Parsons (The Parsons Company/New York), James Kudelka (Director of The National Ballet of Canada), Harvard Artist in Residence and Genius Award winner Liz Lerman, and Alonzo King (Lines Ballet/San Francisco). In addition to dancing virtuoso ballet roles, such as Le Corsaire pas de deux, Michael appeared as the principal dancer in Alonzo King’s Without Wax. His image has also been featured in Dance Magazine.
Upon relocating to Los Angeles, Michael launched BeitFit.com, a pioneering web site through which he distributed fitness podcasts. His innovative MP3 fitness workout TRANSFORMATION was featured in the New York Times and the magazines Health, Angeleno, and Better Homes and Gardens. His ballet classes have also featured in ANGELENO and on KTLA.
In 2009, Michael choreographed and debuted his multi-media nuevo tango pas de deux Swimming Pool at the Electric Lodge in Venice Beach. Swimming Pool utilized a unique lighting source for the stage – video of a Los Angeles pool illuminated at night. His next work, Dark Matter followed – this dynamic quartette featured four of LA’s most talented and versatile female dancers.
Michael’s exceptional choreographic eye and artistic expertise has garnered attention beyond the dance community. Within the music and entertainment world he conceptualized and directed the “Live My Life” music video for Los Angeles musician Kameron White, and The Sonic Project, which was selected for the 2010 Los Angeles International Film Festival, 2010 So Cal Film Market Festival, The Los Angeles LA FEMME International Film Festival, and won a 2010 Accolade Award.
Michael co-produced, directed, and choreographed “The Ref Project” for dancer Calrton Wilborn in collaboration with photographer Dave Nagel. He most recently directed the “Time To Celebrate”hip hop music video for MODE and 1071 Productions.