Dancer Diaries: Interview with Theresa Slobodnik


theresa slobodnikI had the most wonderful opportunity of spending my third year of college studying Ballet for a brief time under Terry. Her teaching style, studio, and productions reminded me so much of the studio I grew up in and missed desperately when I left for college that I immediately felt right at home with her when I went into her studio for my first rehearsal to be “Dawn” in their 2010 production of Coppélia. She has an intense desire for all her dancers to be at their best, and she tirelessly motivates, works, and encourages all her dancers in a way that you cannot help but feel as if anything is possible. She is the perfect mix of kindness and drive, getting the best out of you simply because you want her to be proud of your work. I feel so blessed to have been able to dance for her. When I decided I wanted to do this series for the blog, I immediately hoped that I could get an interview from Terry. Even though she was entrenched in directing Ballet Theater San Luis Obispo’s latest performance of Robin Hood, she kindly agreed. She has some fantastic insights into the world behind the stage and how she has been able to follow her dream career, as well as be a wonderful wife and mother to five children along the way. So, here she is in her own words:

Whats your dance background? How/when did you decide to make it your career?

My mother had stopped her dance training as a child and always regretted it. My mother found a woman teaching “contemporary ballet” through the recreation department in Concord, California. This was in the mid 1950s. Margery Stevens had been a ballerina who became a protoge of Martha Graham. She was brilliant and taught her own blend of modern dance and classical ballet. Her annual programs were not so much recitals but big Ballet Russe-like productions. My first role at age 3 was the Pig Baby in her “Alice in Wonderland”. I was very shy and cried through the entire experience! Mrs. Stevens went on to produce incredible programs: “Chess”, “Ondine”, an Egyptian piece and Western piece I don’t have names for, excerpts from Swan Lake and so on. I remember real live ponies on stage! I remember big, exotic productions with sets and lighting where everyone knew their part was important. To pay for our lessons my mother traded costume design and construction. She hand-made patterns for all the parents with hand-written instructions. If someone could not sew she made their child’s costume! In addition my father made prop and set pieces.

Our family of 7 lived the east SF Bay area. I have very powerful memories of trips to the War Memerorial Opera House, ACT and San Francisco State to see performances of ballet, opera and theatre. As my family had little expendable income, most of these were final dress rehearsals.

Mrs. Stevens moved away when I was 11 years old. Her replacement was a devastating dissappointment. I quit dancing for four years. In high school I began studying Graham based modern dance with a wonderful teacher named Miss Toy. We developed technique, choreography skills with criteria and production management. She also implemented classical ballet barre and center work. This felt like a return to a lost love and I began my journey back into dance. The modern jazz boom had hit the Bay Area and I studied with Rec Russel. Back to ballet was with Lee Salsbury, a tiny but colorful and powerful woman from New York, and Patrice Nissen who taught the Royal Academy of Dancing (R.A.D.) syllabus. I had a good deal of catching up to do!

image via terry slobodnik

Terry with partner Carlo Sierras / image thanks to terry slobodnik

I have to say I did not decide to make dance my career. I was surfing, rock climbing, back packing, white water rafting and kayaking…….anything outside! I married my husband of 39 years at 18 years old. Our first of 5 children was born when I was 20! We were loving each other and life here on the central coast. But dance would not let go of me. In fact it became my primary passion outside of my faith and family. I was extremely fortunate to have a dance opportunity here on the central coast which gave me a mentor (Gilbert Reed) and a dream career.

Even though you love what you do, have you ever/do you currently have doubts about what you’re doing?

Because I never really planned all of this I know it is a gift. I check in regularly with God and put what I am doing before Him. I give it up.

If God wants me to continue I am willing to do the work, but I have to know it is His plan….not mine.

You have children, a husband, and now grandchildren and yet you’ve been able to continually build your dance studio into a thriving business and artistic outlet. How did you balance it all?

Again, knowing this is what God has me doing is they key. On the family side, my husband studied ballet for 3 years and we actually performed and partnered together! He was an Architectural Design major at Cal Poly. He comes from a very artistic family: his father a tenor, his mother a painter, his sister a violist. He has always loved what I do and supported it in every way. He now designs and builds all my ballet sets! We have raised our 5 children to value the arts. They all play multiple instruments, the girls each danced for 10 years, one is an incredible ceramicist and voice performance major, the other is a painter and high-end chef. One son has his own band and another is a cellist working on his degree in cello performance. They all are very proud of what I do and that their parents are in it together!

image via terry slobodnik

terry with mentor gilbert reed / image thanks to terry slobodnik

Even if someone isn’t planning on seriously pursuing a dance career, or even ever performing on a stage, why should they consider dancing? What about dancing, and in particular, ballet, relates to improving your everyday quality of life?

Studying dance is extremely rewarding on so many levels: physically, creatively, emotionally, spiritually, socially. People have always danced.

Studying ballet gives you the life models of respect, discipline, and striving for the mastery.

Ballet, at least classical ballet, in many studios I’ve danced in isn’t the most popular with young students and new dancers. They often choose jazz, hip-hop, or modern. What does ballet offer that other dance styles can’t give?

Ballet offers the classical discipline: the science of how the body moves, the life time quest of mastery, the power of artistry, which, when studied, gives tremendous fulfillment.

What’s your biggest challenge in directing your own studio? What keeps you motivated and in love with what you do without reaching the burn-out stage?

While I am the Ballet Director at Dance Obispo, I am not the owner. I would say the biggest challenge for owner Sheri Thompson and myself is keeping the enrollment up. Our studio’s highest priorities are its ballet training and performance opportunities. In addition to being a home for Ballet Theatre San Luis Obispo, we have Youth Ballet Obispo. Our youth program involves regular performance opportunities in the community. It is a constant challenge to successfully communicate the values of consistency in class attendance/training and artistic development.

image via terry slobodnik

terry in studio directing rehearsals / image thanks to terry slobodnik

If you could tell your 23-year-old self something, what would you say?

Life is short. Follow your passion.

 I want to say again to Terry, thank-you so much for giving me this interview. I hope all my readers enjoy reading it as much as I did! She is such an inspiring individual, able to seamlessly balance her passion for dance, her love for God, and her devotion to her husband and children into a beautiful life. I have to think her ballet training gives her a little edge: even when she’s stressed, she still has an aura of elegance, grace, and endurance. From her peaceful exterior, you’d never know that woman was quite the superhero.

– <3 A. 

Other Dancer Diaries: 

  photo by vince trupsin at elevation studios copy  alexguestpost  ballet two copy

       part two                part three                     part four

Plain Jane

mollands.netPlain Jane:

Eleanor went to her room where she was free to think and be wretched

-Jane Austen in Sense and Sensibility

Isn’t that just entirely necessary sometimes? To be perfectly free to think and be wretched? Of course, then you always must get over it and trundle on…

Much Ado About Golightly

breakfast at tiffanys

This year, Truman Capote’s 1958 novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s turns 55 years old. And, to celebrate the heroine’s (Holly Golightly) undying attraction among women since her debut first on the pages of Capote’s book, and then on the silver-screen with Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal of the quirky, slightly troubled, yet unfailingly original, girl, Broadway opened it’s own version of the tale last week on March 20th. Prior to the opening, the New York Times ran an article attempting to pin down the elusive character of Holly Golightly, seeking to grasp both the identity of the girl herself (was she a call girl, an escort, a common prostitute, or simply a liberated, artistic woman seeking a wild, new life?) as well as why women from the 1950’s, 60’s, 80’s, and now, still adore and identify with her.

It’s a legitimate question, for, because the on-screen version of Capote’s novella toned down the rather risque (for the time) portions of the original story, we never  are explicitly told what Holly Golightly “does” and yet, it’s alluded to, and can be implied by the more insightful viewer, that Holly is something of an escort, a sort of “kept woman” not by one wealthy man but by many. How “far” she goes with these men we are never told, but it is clear that they repay her in clothing, housing, favors etc. And thus the New York Times article then questions, why do generations after generations of women love this portrait of femininity? Why is something of a call girl (a young and seemingly innocent one to be sure but still, the intonations are there) the emblem of what forward-thinking women are, admire, or want to be?

In the 1950’s and 60’s young women loved Holly-Audrey’s aura of liberation (from men, mothers, marriage and middle-class morality)…Today young women embrace the character for the same reasons.

breakfast at tiffanys image via fanpopThe article then goes on to quote a 20-something girl who declares that Holly is “a strong, free woman, and the difference between her and a call girl or prostitute lies in the control she has over her relationships.” Reading these reviews of Holly’s character, if I hadn’t read the book or seen the film, I would immediately conjure up a very happy, confident, brilliant, modern woman, wouldn’t you? I mean, let’s review: the quotes say that Holly is enveloped in an “aura of liberation,” is free of constraints of typical moral compasses, and has “control over her relationships.” Sounds pretty grand, yes? But if you’ve read the novella, or seen the film, you know that beneath Holly’s beauty and “freedom” is a character wracked with sadness, loneliness, and confusion. Scene after scene passes with Holly searching for something to give her life meaning. And, scene after scene passes with Holly almost bi-polarly jumping from champagne-induced joy to a downward, depressing spiral into the moral vacuum she created for herself–an emotion she dubs as the “mean reds,” when “suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of.” Throughout the story, Holly constantly refers to her fear of “belonging,” being trapped, and being stuck with just one person. And so, she goes from one man to the next, avoiding love, crushing it when it happens to infiltrate her life, and emerging as an “independent” woman perhaps, but a miserable, hardened one at that.

So, repeating the Times’s query, what about this character do women so admire?breakfast at tiffanys
Of course you could just admire the character for her classic, chic style, and her whimsical apartment decorating ideas. Indeed, many fans of Holly stop at just that aspect of her personality. The Times article mentions the iconic image of Hepburn peering into the Tiffany’s window as a poster so famous you’re sure to find it populating the walls of some dorm room at almost every college campus around the country. It’s true too, a black, white, and pink version of the image accompanied me into the trenches of first-year college life. I happily welcomed Holly into that 10X10 space, never really thinking past the girl’s surface-style. Another devoted Golightly-fan quips in the Times article that though perhaps she is “blinded by (her) love for” Holly, she sees “her (Holly’s) behavior as simply taking control and living life to the fullest.” In other words, she admires Holly’s strength to not give in to one man. To come and go from relationships, taking what she needs but never giving in, refusing to be “put in a cage” by sticking with one person and instead doing as she chooses, seeing through every whimsical fancy, and fulfilling every independent desire. Though the woman quoted in the Times saw and admired Holly for “living life to the fullest” and “taking control,” if you look at the character, I see nothing of a fulfilled woman, nor a powerful and confident one. Instead, just stopping at a fairly superficial character sketch of Golightly reveals she is at times incoherent, always self-conscious and timid when she finds herself in real, meaningful relationships, shies away from responsibility, and lives day-to-day, casually entering and exiting relationships and remaining ever on an elusive, mysterious pedestal to the men she interacts with yet hiding on the inside a heart crushed by an incessant search for belonging. Of course, this may be what is so attractive about her to so many modern women, women who are told that personal fulfillment can’t happen inside a singular, monogamous relationship. Instead, we are urged to “find ourselves” before “belonging” to anyone, take what we can from the many relationships we should pursue and “try on” along the way, call it baggage experience, and head on our own way. But I tend to agree with Holly’s frustrated love interest, Paul: that sometimes being in love with one person is the most powerful and fulfilling thing you could ever do, because it means that you are so confident in yourself that even giving up “half” still makes a whole “you”:

 You know what’s wrong with you, Miss Whoever-you-are? You’re chicken, you’ve got no guts. You’re afraid to stick out your  chin and say, “Okay, life’s a fact, people do fall in love, people do belong to each other, because that’s the only chance anybody’s got for real happiness.” You call yourself a free spirit, a “wild thing,” and you’re terrified somebody’s gonna stick you in a cage. Well baby, you’re already in that cage. You built it yourself. And it’s not bounded in the west by Tulip, Texas, or in the east by Somali-land. It’s wherever you go. Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.

So, when I read the Cort Theatre’s tagline for attracting Broadway fans to the new Breakfast at Tiffany’s show, proudly saying that the show’s heroine, Holly Golightly,  “is the woman every man wants to be with and every woman wants to be,” I could say quite definitely that yes, I will always love Audrey as Holly, yes, I love her claw-foot-tub-couch, and yes, I love her alligator kitten heels and easy, chic style, but no, actually, I don’t want to be her, and I wouldn’t want to be with a man who would.

images via fanpop |quotes via Breakfast at Tiffanys, New york times, Cort theatre

– <3 A. 

Posts Like This: 

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Plain Jane austen sketchPlain Jane: “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.”

-Jane Austen in Emma

Happy Valentines Day to my VMMV readers! I’m so thankful for each and everyone of my faithful, new, and occasional readers. Your readership, comments, and encouragement keeps me writing, brainstorming, and motivated to keep writing. In honor of all of you, and in honor of Jane, I’m going to copy her today and say, “if I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more” but since I don’t, and I can’t, then I will leave it right there.

A Browning Kind of Love

brownings love letters

You will only expect a few words–what will those be? When the heart is full it may run over, but the real fulness stays within…Words can never tell you, however,—form them, transform them anyway,—how perfectly dear you are to me—perfectly dear to my heart and soul. I look back, and in every one point, every word and gesture, every letter, every silence—you have been entirely perfect to me—I would not change one word, one look. My hope and aim are to preserve this love, not to fall from it—for which I trust to God who procured it for me, and doubtlessly can preserve it. Enough now, my dearest, dearest own—You have given me the highest, completest proof of love that ever one human being gave another. I am all gratitude-and all pride (under the proper feeling which ascribes pride to the right source) all pride that my life has been so crowned by you. God bless you prays your very own R.—I will write tomorrow of course. Take every care of my life which is in that dearest little hand; try and be composed, my beloved. -Robert Browning to Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“Love” sometimes is inspired by words. For Robert Browning, he fell in love with Elizabeth’s writing without ever seeing or knowing her. Through mutual respect and admiration for one another’s minds, Robert and Elizabeth Browning had a very successful marriage, within which spawned some of the most beautiful love language of all time. Modern love puts a lot of emphasis on physical attraction, sexual gratification, and personal reward. But the most beautiful portraits of love I think are the selfless ones where it is obvious that regardless of how lovely you are, your mate is filled with “all gratitude and all pride” that their “life has been so crowned,” simply, by knowing you. Happy Friday everyone, hope this week gave you a little Valentines inspiration. There’s more to come next week so stay tuned and get busy over the weekend!

– <3 A.

Valentine Inspiration: 

place cards beaded hearts           Untitled-15

    DIY Place Cards               DIY Bead Hearts                Valentines Style Secrets

Plain Jane

jane austen sketch via mollands.netPlain Jane: “A young woman in love always looks like Patience on a monument Smiling at Grief.”

-Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey 

I don’t know why, because I don’t think Jane intended this to be funny, but when I read this I was struck with quite the set of giggles. Probably because I imagined Jane looking smugly at just such a girl and thinking unimaginable things to write about her. Beware of the quiet ones, they’re usually writers, composing something that could bring you to your knees in seconds.