Ballet dancer

Ballet dancer turns to virtual classes amid COVID-19

Samantha Collen has performed internationally, graduating from the St. Petersburg State Conservatory and training and teaching at the renowned Vaganova Russian Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia.

She graced stages in Paris and Russia and trained at an academy that created some of the world’s most prestigious dancers and choreographers, including Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. She has participated in national and international ballet competitions and performed on a multitude of stages.

Now she teaches dance locally through her own central Minnesota ballet academy. She is Artistic Director of the Minnesota Dance Ensemble and also teaches dance movement and presents at the Paramount Center for the Arts. She teaches in assisted living communities and teaches dance and provides choreography to various groups and organizations in the community.

“I find such joy in sharing what I love with others and seeing them enjoy it,” Collen said. “When I give a dancer instructions on a move and see them able to incorporate that feeling and emotion into their body and the move works, seeing the expression on their face…it’s that freedom and that joy of expression, that carefree movement.”

Samantha Collen

Since the start of COVID-19, Collen decided to offer her students online dance lessons via Zoom. Each student just needs a small space in their home, big enough to stretch their arms out and lift a leg without touching anything. Then she teaches a full ballet class from start to finish.

“I’m an artist, so I’m a creative person and always eager to come up with new things,” she said. “Right now, when everything is even more closed, I find ways to open up and stay connected, I have to keep expressing myself, moving and creating new dances.”

She has already hosted an online recital with her students and is planning another larger performance for August, tiling the videos of each of her students so she can show them dancing in a synchronized group as well as close-ups of each individual.

She uses technology to connect with her students online and she uses it to connect with her colleagues around the world. She is working on creating an online master class for them as she cannot provide one in person at this time.

Collen, who grew up in St. Joseph and graduated from St. John’s Preparatory School, has been a teacher all her life.

Samantha Collen participates in a master class held at the Central Minnesota Ballet Academy in January.

From the age of 7, she began teaching other students in her ballet class. Friends came to her for help and she was happy to give instructions on the spot. By the age of 12 she was running her own workshops at the dance studio and from there her passion for teaching, especially teaching classical ballet, grew.

She lived in Russia for almost eight years. The first two years she went back and forth, always performing in the United States. Then, for six years, she danced in Russia full-time.

Collen returned to the United States and officially opened Central Minnesota Ballet Academy in 2006. She wanted to provide dancers with a place to train and dance professionally right here in Minnesota.

Her academy offers all levels of instruction, and she accepts new students for her online classes, which run three days a week for beginner ballet and intermediate ballet. It offers courses for young people and adults and no experience is required.

The dancers she teaches, she said, have become part of her family as the central Minnesota community has embraced her and her skills.

“We have such a strong artistic community,” she said. “People really appreciate the power of art.”

Her artistry can be seen through the stage during performances by the Minnesota Dance Ensemble, where she serves as Artistic Director. Collen worked hard to develop MDE as an opera ballet company. This winter, she staged a production of “Snow Maiden” at Paramount and drew opera singers, musicians and dancers live from New York City, providing some of her original choreography for the production.

“I really enjoy collaborating with people, whether they’re local artists or artists from across the country or around the world,” Collen said.

Her love for ballet opera ignited during her time in St. Petersburg, where she was surrounded by live music and dancing. She saw a number of operas and began to study them. She took inspiration from the original works and layered her own choreography, ultimately creating a piece with traditional movement and her own new styles.

“Combining ballet dance moves with live dancing and live music with such powerful voices is a very touching and emotional experience,” she said.

Learn more about the courses

To learn more about classes, check out Central Minnesota Ballet Academy on Facebook or contact Samantha Collen at [email protected]

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