Meet Renee Aguilera, lake resident and Ballet Mistress for Roanoke Ballet Theatre's Professional Company.
Renee's dancing career began at the age of eight when she attended a class at her local parks and rec department north of Chicago. Quickly picking up on her potential, the teacher suggested she transfer to the town performance school where she would be able to receive a more structured education. At age 11, she moved to a formal ballet school where she would go on to study under a bevy of well-known teachers from across the country.
What initially brought her to this area was the Virginia School of the Arts in Lynchburg. VSA was a renown boarding school for dancers where she first attended during their summer sessions, and then eventually transitioned to full-time student. Throughout her training though, Renee always knew that her ultimate goal was to become a ballet teacher…not pursue a career performing with a company. But after so many years of intensive dawn-to-dusk study at VSA, then afterward at Radford University, she found herself burned out - to the tune of stepping away from the barre for seven years.
Over that time, she moved to the Roanoke Valley - mainly because it reminded her so much of her childhood home. Having hiking, camping, and water sports all at her fingertips gave her life! There was one element missing though…dance.
One day she wandered into Roanoke Ballet Theatre inquiring as to whether they gave classes for adults. Why yes, they did! They also happened to be in dire need of a costume seamstress at the time…a hobby Renee had enjoyed since she was very young. All of a sudden, here she was - fully immersed back into the world she had known for so long. In addition to creating a collection of stunning tutus for the school, she began taking classes again. Which turned into an unexpected opportunity to get back to her first love: teaching. Meanwhile, she began dancing as a member of the newly formed professional company at RBT. Fast forward four years and Renee was asked to step into the role of company teacher - eventually being promoted to her current position of Ballet Mistress.
While it may seem all serenity and perfection, the world of professional dance can actually be quite a high stress environment by turns. Renee leans heavily on the peaceful haven here at the lake that she and her family call home to help balance the tension. - Just simply driving home through the beautiful countryside relaxes her soul. Long days spent out on the water kayaking and fishing are what her dreams are made of. That, and learning to live off the land.
Finding a place of balance has allowed her to continue into her 10th season with RBT sharing her talent and passion for dance with the next generation.
Roanoke Ballet Theatre, which recently celebrated it's 40th anniversary, calls the heart of the Historic Grandin Village home. It encompasses a professional company of dancers as well as a school which offers instruction in a full slate of disciplines. There is an informal track, as well as a program for those who would like to pursue dance as a career.
Their Black Box performances are a rare treat. Audience members have the opportunity to be a guest in the practice studio of the professionals and enjoy an up-close mini program that might include excerpts from classics like Swan Lake, Paquita, or Sleeping Beauty. One of my favorite aspects though, is that it is also used as an avenue for premiering new works by talented young choreographers in the company. You might see contemporary, neoclassical, and modern pieces (in addition to the classics) at any given performance. The esteemed directors of RBT also set original work on the company from time to time.
All in all, these hour-long 'bite-sized-ballets' feel like an exclusive peek into the arts without all the glitz and glamour of the stage that most are never privy to. They're also a great opportunity for those who are “ballet-curious”. The Black Box performances really make dance accessible to all.
*Pro Tip: When you're attending a Black Box, why not plan to make a day of it in and around the Historic Grandin Village (which is around 30 minutes from Westlake)? Catch a matinee at The Grandin Theatre, browse the aisles at Black Dog Salvage, plan for dinner at one of the amazing area restaurants…then cap off the evening with a little ballet before heading home!