Tari's pre-professional ballet program dancer Megan. Photo by Aaron Cox.

Tari’s School of Dance pre-professional ballet program director Ivy Delk reveals what it takes to train for a career in the spotlight

A typical childhood afternoon might look something like this: Soccer practice or dance class, after-school snack, homework at the kitchen counter, playing with friends, maybe a little TV or a video game. The schedule looks a little different for young dancers who are so dedicated to their sport that they are hoping to pursue it professionally. These tweens and teens eat, sleep and breathe ballet–and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

A dozen of these ballerinas are part of the new pre-professional ballet program at Tari’s School of Dance, which we spotlighted in the September issue of inRegister. For more details on the program, we asked program director Ivy Delk to walk us through this new offering:

How did the idea for the pre-professional program come about? What made you see the need for such a program here in Baton Rouge?

I have been at the studio for nine years this August, and over my time there I have really seen the interest in ballet grow. Over the last couple years, I saw a serious change in quite a few dancers. We were having girls accepted into highly competitive summer intensives like Houston Ballet and the ever- so-selective School of American Ballet, the official school of The New York City Ballet. Essentially from the day I began teaching in Baton Rouge, I recognized there was a void in the Greater Baton Rouge region for students seeking professional training. Baton Rouge has a number of good recreational schools, but it didn’t have anything with enough training hours to consistently prepare a student for auditioning for professional ballet companies or competitive collegiate dance programs. To get all the classes needed, students would be bouncing from Baton Rouge to New Orleans to Hammond and still not be getting enough classes. It just seemed like a logical decision for us to take that big step and to offer another level to those wanting to get everything right at home.

You trained in the Atlanta Ballet’s pre-professional program yourself. Tell me a little about what that experience was like for you, and how it helped to prepare you for your ballet career. 

It really was an eye-opening experience. Macon, where I grew up, was not dissimilar from Baton Rouge in size and in terms of its arts community. I had previously trained at local recreational studios, but I knew I wanted more. Studying ballet at the highest level is very demanding. The schedule was intense, and we commuted an hour and a half each way. We had technique classes from 4 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday. I remember a lot of friends back home thinking we were insane for the time commitment, but it helped being surrounded by like-minded dancers. I never minded giving up the traditional school experience of football games, extracurriculars, or social events because I was really doing what I loved. Coming from such a comprehensive program really prepared me for a professional career. I had a clear understanding of time management and how to prioritize what needed to be done. I knew that if I was going to be a dancer, it was solely up to me and my work ethic. I also got to see the inner workings of a professional company. I saw how rehearsals were run, and the responsibility of dancers to be absolutely prepared before every rehearsal.

How many dancers are part of the pre-professional program this fall? What is the capacity for the program going forward?

We have 12 dancers divided over two levels for our first year. Our Pre-Pro 1 (PP1) is intended for younger dancers who have a serious interest in ballet but aren’t necessarily ready to narrow their focus to just ballet. Our Pre-Pro 2 (PP2) is for the more advanced dancer that has fully committed to just ballet and maintains a very rigorous schedule. Going forward, Tari and I hope to see the program continue to grow. We hope to attract as many young dancers with the necessary level of drive and focus as we can.

What is the time commitment for the pre-professional program? 

Our PP1 dancers are dancing, on average, about 16 hours a week, but not solely ballet and just in the afternoons/evenings. They really still get a broad range of classes with extra ballet added in so they can experience it all before deciding to specialize. Our PP2 students are dancing between 25 and 30 hours a week of just ballet. They are fully dedicated to ballet training and do not participate in other extracurricular activities. We do have a day program for our PP2 students, but it is not required. Our dancers can pick and choose the days they participate. We have been so fortunate that a lot of the schools have been understanding and given our girls early release from school. We have some that have decided to come out of traditional school and now attend virtual school to better accommodate the rigorous schedule, and we also have dancers that still attend a traditional school and join us each afternoon at 4. When designing the schedule, it was important to me that dancers attending regular school still receive enough training to truly build the key foundation of technique.

What kinds of opportunities might a dancer in your pre-professional program be able to participate in? 

A big driving factor in joining the program is an invitation to compete at Youth America Grand Prix, the world’s largest non-profit international student ballet competition and scholarship program. Based on a dancer’s readiness, they have an opportunity to be invited by me to compete. This year, we have four dancers competing. Our dancers also participate in our yearly recital at Tari’s School of Dance. I hope to add one more performance opportunity in the late fall. I would love to stage an excerpt of a ballet and have a small series of shows for them to perform. While our focus is primarily technical development, I understand the excitement that comes with performing. We recognize, also, that seeing the beauty that these dancers can produce is a great way to help the Baton Rouge community become more excited about ballet and grow it as an art form.

What are your hopes and goals for this program as it grows and moves forward?

My primary goal is to produce happy and successful dancers. That success could be dancing in a professional company or a collegiate program, or that they have developed foundational life skills and principles about dedication and hard work in whatever field they may choose. I want students to have the confidence to approach any challenge before them and know they have the tools to be successful. Another major goal of mine is to expand the base of local support for high-level ballet. I hope to broaden the Baton Rouge community’s perspective by showing that ballet can be more than just a hobby. Like any other elite sport, it is extremely difficult and requires sacrifice, but it is absolutely realistic for students to have a career dancing ballet (like a real career with benefits and everything!). I hope to incorporate more community outreach and performances to give people a sense of what we are actually doing so they can see for themselves what pre-professional training can produce.

Interested dancers can register for Tari’s June 2022 pre-professional program audition workshop. Call (225) 767-4495, email [email protected], or follow the Tari’s pre-professional program on Instagram for details. And read our story about the program here