The fitness class at MMC is open to everyone looking to harness the power of dance for health, wellbeing and fun
October 25, 2022 at 3:30pm
By Maya Washburn
Whether or not they know the difference between a pirouette and plié, students interested in ballet now have an outlet at MMC.
The classical French dance is taught in a fitness class at the rec center, and folks of all backgrounds and levels can participate, from complete beginners to those who have been dancing since they could walk.
Elena Passoni, a student studying architecture in the accelerated master’s program, danced ballet from the age of 5 to 16 and said the FIU class has reawakened her former passion.
“Being able to dance again has really made me feel better and had a positive impact on my mental and physical health," Passioni said. "I'm doing something for myself that I enjoy without any pressure, just for fun.”
Most ballet enthusiasts are typically introduced to the dance as schoolchildren, when classes for that age group abound. “This ballet class was the first I’ve ever heard of tailored to students our age,” said Passoni, who added that she would recommend the class to anyone interested so they can experience the same benefits she has.
“I think it's a great class, even for people who don't know ballet at all,” Passoni said. “It's an amazing opportunity to move your body and learn about ballet at our age.”
Jacqueline Castro signed up for the class as a complete beginner – except for a brief stint when she was 4 – to finally live out her childhood dream of dancing ballet.
“This ballet class has impacted me a lot,” said Castro, a graduate student studying computer science. “As a student and full-time employee, I always felt like I never had time to do anything for myself. Now, I feel like I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to do as a little girl. I’ve realized that dream for myself.”
Castro said her confidence has soared since starting to dance.
“Ballet has helped my posture, grace and self-esteem,” said Castro. “It’s really fun to be in an environment with girls and guys all together dancing.”
The class features solo dancing and is divided into barre work that stretches the arms and legs, jumps and leaps that strengthen the core and full-body conditioning exercises.
Shari Little, a part-time FIU employee who also is a trained ballet instructor, had the idea to start the class when the university was closed due to the pandemic.
Little learned ballet when she was 7 years old and worked as a professional ballerina for 17 years before transitioning into teaching and then running the education program at the Miami City Ballet.
During the pandemic lockdown, she learned how to teach ballet classes online for a local studio. When FIU's Healthy Living Program was looking for fresh ideas to keep students engaged, Little offered to teach ballet over Zoom and, eventually, turned the class into a popular in-person experience.
Little emphasized how ballet helps lift students’ self-confidence.
“A couple of students who were quite shy have really come out of their shells. I’ve seen a difference in how they approach everything,” Little said. “Ballet helps you build confidence by gesture and posture. When you start to stand up straight, and you're aware of how you approach a room or people, it makes a huge difference in the way people react to you.”