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Ballet master raises the barre for students

By Cindy Atoji Keene

Ballet master Cosmin Marculetiu doesn’t see a lack of talent in student dancers at The International Ballet Academy of Norwell, the studio he founded three years ago. “What’s missing instead is the discipline and focus needed to make the leap to a top-level professional dancer, as kids are often distracted by sports, extracurricular activities, and other commitments,” said Marculetiu, 45, a former principal dancer with several European companies including the Romanian National Ballet and Croatian National Ballet. “Often there’s a lack of appreciation for culture and the arts, such as ballet, and parents seem to prefer to have their kids play soccer or hockey,” said Marculetiu, who trains aspiring young students to novice adults.

Q: Some of your former students have become professional ballet dancers. Can you tell right away when a student has potential?
A: Yes and no. Sometimes I can get a wrong impression. You can have the perfect body for ballet – long legs, good proportions – but if a student doesn’t give a 100 percent, they probably won’t make it to the highest levels. Dancers need to practice at least two hours every day, although if you’re born with natural talent, perhaps maybe less. I had a boy with incredible talent; he was able to dedicate only 10 hours a week, but today he is a soloist with the Boston Ballet. So it all depends. Every kid is different.

Q: What are your methods of teaching?
A: I use the Vagnova method from Russian ballet. It emphasizes a strong body as the foundation for expressive dancing and eloquent arm movement. I want my students to understand the reason behind every exercise or step, so they’re not only able to master it but also can explain its purpose. Dancers need to have all the right basics; it is not enough for musicians, for example, to play by ear – they also need to be able to read the score. Likewise, dancers need to be grounded in the essentials of the art.

Q: Does ballet have a harmful overemphasis on body image and the stereotypical perfect, thin body type?
A: Overweight or skinny, everyone can dance, but not everyone can be a prima ballerina at the American Ballet Theater. But there are smaller companies, in Oregon, Arizona, Idaho and elsewhere that don’t care about weight. I’ve seen a lot of heavier dancers that are absolutely fabulous in technique and interpretation. Why should we get rid of them? But it’s important to be realistic about the reality of their future dreams.

Q: Is ballet as physically grueling as it’s reputed to be?
A: When I was a first soloist with the Romanian National Ballet, I had to go and throw up after each scene because it was so incredibly hard – but so fulfilling. I was a dancer for almost three decades, and I’ve had six major knee surgeries and one of my vertebrae is gone from lifting. Ballet is a very brutal job, but being in the U.S. is actually easier for a dancer, because there are fewer productions and companies, so there is less abuse on the body.

Q: How did you feel when you retired from dancing?
A: My last performance was four years ago, when I did the Nutcracker as a guest artist with the Central Florida Ballet. It was time – I’m almost pushing 50 now, and I want the audience to remember me on stage as I used to be, instead of thinking, ‘What is this old guy doing up there?’ Let the young and powerful have their turn – now I teach them how to be beautiful.

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