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November 21, 2007 > Yoko's youngsters wow us with the Nutcracker

Yoko's youngsters wow us with the Nutcracker

By Vidya Pradhan

Tucked away in a nondescript industrial location of Fremont is a dance school that has earned a national reputation. Yoko's Dance and Performing Academy will again bring a world class performance of the 'Nutcracker' to Fremont in collaboration with the Fremont Symphony Orchestra.

Established in 1995, the award winning school is the creation of Yoko Young, a Prima Ballerina trained by teachers at the Tokyo ballet, Bolshoi Ballet and the New York Ballet. Students start as early as three years old for an hour a week. Older students spend eight hours a week on practice, 10 hours during rehearsals, a low number by dancing school standards.

"We like our children to have a good academic life." says Yoko. "A dancer's career is a short one and at the end of the day, children have to be prepared for college." Her dancers have impressed judges and other dancers to such an extent that they are often asked if they are home-schooled and spend most of the day practicing. "Not at all," says Yoko. "In my school one hour of practice is equal to three hours at other schools."

Marlene Ellis, the Academy's office manager, is also the mother of two girls who graduated from the Academy. She echoes Yoko's sentiments. "My daughter thoroughly enjoyed dancing, but she was also homecoming queen at her school and is now majoring in Math and Physics. Her experience in dance taught her to manage her time better so she could have a well-rounded life."

Despite the few hours of practice, the school's students have won national awards in Ballet and Jazz dancing, even bringing home the Tap Dancing trophy one year. The Academy only enters significant competitions like KAR (Kid's Artistic Revue) - in which students have won every year since 2000 - and Showstopper, where again the Academy has produced impressive results.

Loving discipline is the key to making practice sessions count and small class sizes ensure that teachers are personally involved with the students. Yoko knows the name and class of each of her students. The discipline of dance school often spills over to other areas of dancers' lives. Yoko remembers a student who was having trouble in school and achieving top grades. "After she was here for a while, she straightened out and her GPA improved from a 2.8 to a 3.6," Yoko reminisces.

"Our kids perform so well that there is a misperception that we only take good, established dancers," says Yoko. "But that is not the case at all. We want kids when they are young so we can train them. It is better that they start with us rather than unlearn methods they have learnt elsewhere. We welcome all calibers of students."

Clara Ma, who plays the Sugar Plum Fairy this year, has been with the academy since she was about five years old. She started in the combo class but soon moved to ballet. "There is a lot of discipline involved," she says. "There is a sense of authority. We see a lot of the older students dancing and that is inspiring. They are our role models and we learn a lot from them. They are like our older sisters." This is Clara's first year playing the Sugar Plum Fairy. After the production, she plans to start preparing for competitions. Among her many treasured experiences with the company is a trip to Japan as a dance ambassador with 25 other dancers from the company.

True to Yoko's philosophy, Clara has not undermined other parts of her life for dance. A junior at Mission San Jose High, she works for her school newspaper and is enrolled in many honors classes. "Dancing teaches you time management," she says.

In a short period of time, Yoko's Dance Academy has entrenched itself within the community to such an extent that members of the Fremont City Council have been cast as guests in the opening party scenes of the Nutcracker ballet. Mayor Bob Wasserman has been a fixture, as has his wife, Linda and councilmembers Steve Cho, Anu Natarajan and Bill Harrison. Vice-Mayor Bob Wieckowski plays the part of Drosselmeier.

To check out the terrific performances of the students of Yoko's Dance and Performing Arts Academy, start your holiday season with the Nutcracker performed close to home at the Ohlone College Gary Soren Smith Center for Performing Arts on November 30, December 1 and December 2. Tchaikovsky's scintillating score will be brought to life by the Fremont Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Sloss. Matinee shows will be followed by a special Sugar Plum party for the younger ones.

Yoko's Academy presents Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Ballet
Friday, November 30 7 p.m.
Saturday, December 1 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Sunday, December 2 2 p.m.

Gary Soren Smith Center for Fine and Performing Arts
Ohlone College
43600 Mission Boulevard, Fremont

Tickets can be ordered online at the Fremont Symphony's website
Box Office: (510) 794-1659

Ticket prices range from $20 per child/student to $45 for adults.

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