For senior Rachel Fresques, ballet is a balancing act. As one of the most structured forms of dance, its beauty lies in the relationship between form and expression. “I really like that ballet is so structured,” she said. “What I find so beautiful is the clear lines; you know what it’s supposed to look like, and then somehow you need to find where you come through, where you show your own personality or else it just seems boring.”
Fresques has been dancing since she was three years old, when her parents put her in her first dance class. “I had a lot of energy as a child,” Fresques said, “I was always running around, so my parents enrolled me in some kind of creative movement class because they needed some place to put me.” At the age of four or five, she began taking ballet classes, in which she was able to find her form of expression.
When she was eight, Fresques was enrolled in the Austin Ballet Dance Academy where she remained until the end of high school. The academy, a school attached to a dance company, is a rigorous ballet training program based in technique. “In the winter we would do “The Nutcracker” and in the spring we would do some really basic show. Performance was never the focus and the emphasis was always on technique,” Fresques said.
By the time she was ready to graduate from high school, Fresques was spending 20 hours a week in various technique classes. The school’s precision may have bothered some; students were taught exact forms of ballet, including proper etiquette when practicing in class. However, Fresques enjoyed this sort of structure. She said, “It made me appreciate the peer aspects of ballet, and the older technique form. I didn’t mind the rigidity so much.”
The program was extremely rigorous. On a typical day, Fresques would leave school, go to dance classes at the academy and stay until about 8:30 in the evening. After this, she would finally be able to go home, eat dinner and attempt to do homework, if she wasn’t too tired already.
At Swarthmore, Fresques has continued her ballet training and has taken a series of ballet classes. While she is a psychology major, Fresques has always managed to set aside time for ballet. Even though she take ballet classes six days a week, she insists that it’s not too difficult to manage her schedule. She explained, “I imagine dance is kind of like balancing athletics. I manage, but it leaves very little time for me to procrastinate.”
Classes are an hour and a half a day, but she sometimes dances as much as three hours a day. However, not all the classes she takes are on her level; some of the classes are lower-level ballet classes for which she is paid to be a demonstrator.
Fresques’ Saturday class is a private lesson in preparation for a performance in the spring dance show. “The dance department has been generous. I’m not a dance major or anything, but they’re letting me perform a short variation piece,” she said.
The dance she will perform is a short Balanchine piece. George Balanchine is widely considered the most influential choreographer in the history of American ballet. He is most famous for his setting of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. His style of choreography emphasizes large, fast movements and precise shapes.
Fresques said that ballet has always been her focus in dance. She has, on occasion ventured outside of this type of dance, but ballet has always been her favorite and is the style that makes her feel most at home. She said, “I would always go to summer intensive dance programs which would make you do some other forms dance like jazz or modern, but those were never really my thing.”
Thinking of life after Swarthmore, Fresques said, “I can’t imagine not taking ballet.” For now, Fresques says that “I’m a perfectionist. I’ll always be trying to improve myself as a dancer.”