If you think of ballet as something exclusive, snobby and competitive, then think again. A new ballet school recently opened in Westchase District that welcomes dancers of all ages and abilities. Bayou City Ballet School is in the Westchase Corporate Park at 11231 Richmond Avenue and Alex Pandiscio, the school’s founder and director, has created a classically-based ballet curriculum updated for the 21st century.
The perfect fit
“The school aims to prepare aspiring young men and women for a life both in and beyond dance by teaching the values of commitment, kindness and hard work,” Pandiscio said. “While only a handful will become professional dancers, we give each student a quality education that prepares them for success in any field – including professional balle, if that’s their path.” Originally from Massachusetts, Pandiscio began dancing at four years old with Jacqueline Cronsberg. A graduate of San Francisco Ballet School, he moved to Houston in 2003, where he performed and taught with the Houston Ballet. He earned an undergraduate degree from Rice University in kinesiology and later received teacher training at Canada’s National Ballet School. “A huge part of ballet education has been simply oral tradition, but I wanted to learn more about anatomy and how to nurture healthy, functioning dancers,” he said.
Opening his own ballet school has been a decades-long dream for Pandiscio. “My mother lives in a nearby retirement community, so Westchase District had been on my radar for a while,” he said. “I researched properties all over town, but this location and space seemed like the perfect fit for me.” To create his ideal studio, he knocked out some walls, raised the ceiling and installed a special patented “sprung flooring” that absorbs shocks, giving it a softer feel and helps to reduce injuries.
The school’s impressive facility includes Priscilla Nathan-Murphy, previously the principal of Houston Ballet Academy for 12 years. The children’s program begins at age four with joy of dance, pre-ballet and primary classes. Starting at age eight, students may enter the pre-professional program, where they are placed in levels based on ability, not age. The school also offers classes and workshops for adult learners from beginners to advanced.
Laura Chandler started ballet lessons when she was almost 40 years old. Now in her 60s, she said she’s aware of her limitations but feels Pandiscio brings out the most of her abilities. “I had cancer several years ago and I continued with ballet lessons and I found ballet class was a place to put my feelings aside and concentrate on the music and my movement and form,” she said. “It feels very healing to me. Alex is such an encouraging teacher. He takes you where you are and just wants you to be better.”
Bridget Schmal is another more “mature” dancer who has attended other classes taught by Pandiscio around Houston. “I’m nursing an injury and my orthopedist told me not to quit my ballet lessons. It’s done wonders for my strength and flexibility,” she said. “Alex doesn’t stop paying attention to us just because we’re older.”
Spring resident Shelby Craze began ballet training in earnest at age 10. Now in her early 20s, she currently trains at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, but whenever she’s in Houston she makes time to attend Pandiscio’s classes. “The core muscle exercises he teaches in his floor bar class have helped me nurse back and hip injuries everywhere I travel,” she said. “Mr. Pandiscio has so much passion for dance and he inspires me – he’s a great motivator. He’s really paying attention and cares about every single dancer, no matter their experience or ability.”