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Ballet dancers work with expert

Author, choreographer Dean Speer conducted a workshop in Fort Wayne.

Monday, May 3, 2010 - 10:36 am

Author, teacher, dancer and choreographer Dean Speer was in town last week conducting a series of workshops at the Fort Wayne Ballet.

Speer recently published a book, “On Technique,” in which he wrote about whom he considers the top dance instructors worldwide. Karen Gibbons-Brown of the Fort Wayne Ballet was one of these teachers. Gibbons-Brown said she was excited and humbled about being mentioned in Speer's book.

“I am really quite aware that my successes are dependent on the people around me,” said Gibbons-Brown in a December interview.

“I wanted to pick a wide variety of teachers for my book, not just the famous ones you hear about every day, but also those who are working in the trenches,” said Speer. “I wanted to choose teachers who have a record of producing good students.”

According to Speer, Gibbons-Brown is a great example of both.

In conjunction with National Dance Week, Speer agreed to come to Fort Wayne and join forces with his former student for the series of workshops.

“It has been 22 years,” Gibbons-Brown, who worked with Speer at the Chattanooga Ballet in Tennessee, said between workshops last week. “He looks the same.”

Speer, who lives in Seattle, travels across the United States giving workshops on a regular basis, but this was his first time here.

In his book, Speer says of ballet teachers, “Most of us welcomingly take whoever we get through those studio doors… I never give up on a student.”

Last week was an example of that philosophy. Speer was teaching a master class open to the public. This means he had dancers of all levels and ages from around the area. The school brought in extra barres to accommodate the large group.

As the dancers went through a series of barre movements, Speer made his way from student to student, checking position, turning out feet, adjusting heads, arms, hands and postures. Clapping his hands to the rhythm of the music, he would occasionally wave for the music to stop as he pointed out something to the whole class.

As the 90-minute class progressed, the effort began to show as the students worked through the precise body positions and rhythms of each set of exercises. At the end, all the students thanked him personally for the experience.

Although there are no solid plans for Speer to return to Fort Wayne, he and Gibbons-Brown have not closed the door on the idea, saying another workshop could take place in the future.