Sunday, May 13, 2001

Dance Notes

UC ballet teacher retiring

By Carol Norris

        When I arrived in the Tristate in the late '70s and began looking for a good ballet class, University of Cincinnati's Oleg Sabline was the repeated suggestion. His classes, I was told, were thorough and satisfying.

        Life got in the way, and I never made it to his classes, but they've remained popular.

        Mr. Sabline, who is retiring after this semester, says maybe people like his teaching because he tries to discover an individual's personality. “I try to wake it up — let it come through in the dancing,” he says.

        Tons of books have been written about ballet, but it can't be learned from a textbook. It survives by the hand-me-down method. Mr. Sabline says he's passed on what he knows from studying in Paris and claims allegiance to no particular method.

        “I know all of the techniques, but I developed my own way . . . I never teach the same class. It stimulates the mind so that dancers can learn quickly on the spot.”

        Anneliese von Oettingen brought him to the area originally to stage Les Sylphides for her students. He had been in New York dancing and choreographing but wasn't making any money, so he turned to regional dance.

        He started teaching at UC in 1964 when Cincinnati Ballet was part of the university and College-Conservatory of Music's dance department had no majors.

        “It was like pioneer times. The kids were willing and enthusiastic. I started a dance major program working 16-hour days, running the ballet company and school and rehearsing until midnight,” Mr. Sabline says.

        He developed CCM's Ballet Ensemble — a performing group — and the student Choreographer's Showcase.

        “It's difficult for me to imagine the CCM dance division without Oleg teaching classes or choreographing in one of the studios, says dance division director Carol Iwasaki. “There have been numerous changes in the division . . . but none has had the impact that Oleg's pending retirement will have on our faculty, students and program.”

        Mr. Sabline's parting wisdoms:

        For aspiring dancers: “It's a tough, tough career. Be persistent. You have to love it so much that nothing can stop it.”

        On dancers today: “Techniques have improved. Soloists have the same characteristics as in my time — dynamics, phrasing, emotional output, communicating with the audience — but the average dancer has improved. Legs go higher.”

        On the American dancer: “Very versatile. They adapt to different styles quickly and they're very much appreciated in Europe — more than in this country.”

        Mr. Sabline, 76, says he recently became a grandfather and is looking forward to doing grandpa-type things. You might find him teaching occasionally he says.

        “I'll teach some advanced classes. And children; I always like to teach children.”

        Mr. Sabline will present the final Choreographer's Showcase under his direction 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Patricia Corbett Theater; no charge.

        Summer plans: I read with interest that local political and business leaders were rolling out $2.2 million for summer jobs programs to help ease some of the recent tension in Over-the-Rhine.

        Wonder if they could find a few thousand to support some Over-the-Rhine kids in dance study this summer.

        We recently reported some School for Creative and Performing Arts students were invited to Dance Theatre of Harlem to study for the summer. We called the school to see who else was going where.

        It turns out that 14 dance students have aced auditions, earning scholarships to places such as Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; Chautauqua, N.Y.; Hartford, Conn., and the biggies — American Ballet Theatre and Joffrey Ballet in addition to Dance Theatre of Harlem.

        Only five will use their scholarships.

        SCPA, Cincinnati's jewel of a school that offers kids in grades four through 12 equal credit for arts and academics, sits in the middle of the troubled area. It teaches students that the arts can be life-altering, mind-expanding and more.

        The mean little irony is that many times these kids go so far, then hit a brick wall. Money — the lack of it — is the reality. Summer scholarships don't cover transportation, food or a place to stay.

        SCPA dance teacher Sheila Cohen says about three-fourths of the dancers earning scholarships live in the neighborhood. One is too young, another not ready, but the rest aren't going primarily because of finances, she says.

        Parents at SCPA get uncomfortable reading about the money situation. They like to let me know they're fine, the kids have plenty to eat, they have shoes on their feet, they're not destitute. But for many of these families, sending a kid to dance camp is impossible.

        Dance can change lives, open doors. Too bad some of these kids make it through one open door to face a bigger one nailed shut. Want to help? Call Ms. Cohen at (513) 632-5900.

        Tap day: It only happens once a year, so grab the tap shoes and prepare to swing.

        The area's annual “Tap Dance Day” celebration is 2 p.m. next Sunday at Contemporary Dance Theater's College Hill Town Hall, 1805 Larch Ave.

        Dayton's Rhythm in Shoes headlines a performance that will also showcase local tappers. ($5; $1 kids under 12). At 3:30, Rhythm in Shoes dancers will teach a master class for $15. Information: Gloria Esenwein; 541-7443.

        Carol Norris is a free-lance writer who covers dance for the Enquirer. E-mail


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