Like most young dancers, I attended my fair share of summer programs as a teenager. At 14 I attended Dance Aspen, where I first trained with Jillana. I had no real knowledge of George Balanchine, or Balanchine technique, but was swayed by the thought of dancing in the Rocky Mountains. I enjoyed the classes, and sought out other Balanchine based training after my experiences with Jillana. I also learned that my Houston based climate was much different than the rest of the country. I’ve kept in touch with Jillana over the years, and even included her in some of my research assignments during college. I was very excited when she came to Boise to audition for her summer program, and was even more thrilled that she accepted so many of our students. She wasn’t only auditioning young dancers; she also invited me to attend her adult program, Technique in Taos.

We also stayed in condos in the Taos Ski Valley, though I had the one bedroom with a loft all to myself. Classes were 8:30-5:30, beginning with Pilates and ending with Yoga. I hope it was due more to the elevation of 9300 ft, but I was breathing heavy after tendus. As a professional, we use the mirrors in the studio to fine tune our technique and check our line, but Jillana had no mirrors in her studio. We had to go by feel, and her words of encouragement. Many of Jillana’s adult students were former professional dancers, who now teach and choreograph, though there were also a few students who have chosen to make ballet classes apart of their adult lives.
One of the reasons I chose Dance Aspen years ago was for the proximity to the mountains and the outdoor activities included in the program. Jillana told me I’d love the Taos Ski Valley as well, and I was not disappointed. I had lush green mountains at every view, and a creek of rushing water just past my balcony. We were greeted in the mornings by rabbits, chipmunks in the afternoon, and deer in the evenings. I chose a spot at the barre with a window, taking inspiration from nature during pointe class.
Even as professionals, dancers never stop learning. Every class is a challenge to improve a little bit more; to make every motion one inch closer to that ever elusive perfection. I’ve had wonderful teachers and love sharing their knowledge with my students. This summer, I was fortunate to share my students with a former teacher, and return to her as a professional. I think she was happy with my pas de bourees by the end of the two weeks.
Sarah Ellis, Ballet Idaho Company Dancer