2014-02-28 / Community

Ballet class for adults much more than dance

By Sean P. Milligan
Contributing Writer


Members of Ruth Ann Brinkler's adult ballet class await instruction from their teacher. With a lack of adult dance classes in the area, students in the class say that ballet offers a calming, centered energy. (Sean P. Milligan photo) Members of Ruth Ann Brinkler's adult ballet class await instruction from their teacher. With a lack of adult dance classes in the area, students in the class say that ballet offers a calming, centered energy. (Sean P. Milligan photo) SOUTH PORTLAND – The South Portland Community Center is offering twice-a-week ballet classes for adult women, thanks to Ruth Ann Brinkler. The Connecticut native made it a priority to share her love for dancing with women in the community who might otherwise not be able to take dance classes.

The class began in September after Brinkler approached Ollie LaChappelle, senior programs director for South Portland Recreation Department.

“I had been looking for an adult ballet class and just couldn’t find one in Maine,” said Debra Boyajian, a student of Brinkler’s. “I called (South Portland Community Center) and they said that actually there was a former ballet teacher from another state that wanted to start a class.”


Students in Ruth Ann Brinkler's adult ballet class begin and end each session with a bow. Although strict, students say they get the most from Brinkler's professional stance on dance education. Classes are open for enrollment at the South Portland Community Center. (Sean P. Milligan photo) Students in Ruth Ann Brinkler's adult ballet class begin and end each session with a bow. Although strict, students say they get the most from Brinkler's professional stance on dance education. Classes are open for enrollment at the South Portland Community Center. (Sean P. Milligan photo) According to her resume, Brinkler studied modern dance during her education at Holyoke College, but she didn’t realize her love for ballet until her children left for school. She then studied at Ballet Academy East in New York City before studying Russian Classical Ballet for eight years at State University of New York at Purchase.

At SUNY Purchase she began teaching children through the SUNY Youth Ballet program. She then started her own program, the Greenwich Ballet School, through the Greenwich (Conn.) Recreation Department. Serving as the company’s artistic director and head teacher, Brinkler had a dozen students entered in national competitions.

She treats her current students the same way she would someone in their youth seeking her instruction. Students are expected to adhere to a uniform: pink tights, pink slippers, a simple black leotard and a matching black skirt. Each class begins with a bow to the instructor and the class ends with the same homage.

The rigid routine and regimen are intended to prepare the mind and body for tranquility and self control, virtues most of the women in the class were seeking when they enrolled.

“I was looking for something that honored the strength of the body that wasn’t just jumping around,” said Boyajian. “This is very controlled and disciplined, and I like that aspect of it.”

Brinkler is not afraid of the effect her teaching method may have on the class, however. The Russian Method, her preferred style of ballet, is just as much about mental preparation as it is about mastering the physical skill.

“(Her students) accept that. If they don’t, they leave,” said Brinkler. “But I haven’t had anyone drop out yet.”

The group, which has grown from three women to eight in the first five months, makes room for fun. Around Christmas, they went to Maine State Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker,” and have plans for future trips as well. The class also hopes to give a performance at the community center sometime in the spring.

Brinkler, who is “70-plus” and has Lyme disease, refuses to let physical limitations get in the way of her love for dance and for teaching.

“I love just working with people and teaching them. It’s a joy to teach the Russian method,” she said.

The class is accepting new students ages 20 to 90. Classes are at 11 a.m. on Monday and Friday. Contact South Portland Community Center for more information.

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