For more than five decades, The Rock School for Dance Education has been launching young dancers into professional ballet careers around the globe. Boasting distinguished alumni such as Beckanne Sisk, Michaela DePrince and Taylor Stanley, the Philadelphia-based institution has garnered a well-deserved reputation for pairing rigorous training with a tight-knit, welcoming community. Their summer intensives are no different, with a wealth of prestigious faculty members, many of whom are Rock School alums currently dancing at companies around the world.
What inspires busy pros to keep returning to their alma mater? We talked to three of The Rock School's buzziest alums about why they make it a priority to come back and teach:
Derek Dunn: Principal, Boston Ballet
Dunn teaching (left) and as a student (right) at The Rock School.
Courtesy The Rock School
Boston Ballet principal Derek Dunn found himself teaching at The Rock School this past summer for the first time. "It's rewarding to be up at the front of the room, especially at my old school because I remember what it was like to be that age and be so eager," he says. "I really look up to my teachers, so I think it's important go back and share what I've learned. It was really fun for me to do that this year."
After spending three years of high school at The Rock School and winning a gold medal at Youth America Grand Prix in 2012, Dunn was offered a company contract with Houston Ballet. He spent five years there before joining Boston Ballet as a soloist in 2017. Now a principal, Dunn values the diverse training he received at The Rock School, which has served him well in a professional world where ballet dancers are asked to be stylistic chameleons.
Dunn enjoys returning to his old stomping grounds and connecting with the next wave of dancers. "It's an opportunity, not only for me to grow as a teacher, but to show my gratitude for what I learned there and pass that on to the next generation," he says.
Jeanette Kakareka: Soloist, Bayerisches Staatesballett
Kakareka as a student (left) and teaching (right) at The Rock School.
Courtesy The Rock School
Growing up near Philadelphia, Jeanette Kakareka aspired to be a professional ballet dancer but would not have been able to pursue a ballet career without The Rock School's assistance. "I couldn't afford to pay to go to school," she says. "They believed in me and gave me scholarships, so I owe a lot to them for seeing something in me." (The Rock School awards more than $900,000 in scholarships each year.)
Kakareka studied at The Rock School for five years before finishing her training at the San Francisco Ballet School. She danced as a trainee with SFB for two years, with English National Ballet in London for four years and is now a soloist with Bayerisches Staatsballett in Munich. She credits The Rock School with helping to prepare her for the classical repertory she is immersed in today. "It was an all-day program, which was intense, but as a student it was so important to put in that kind of work," she says.
Kakareka makes it back to Philadelphia when she can and teaches aspiring dancers at The Rock School's summer intensives. "If they want me to teach, I teach," she says. "They just gave me so much; I feel like whatever they need, I'll do it."
Sarah Lapointe: Charlotte Ballet
LaPointe teaching at The Rock School (left) and as a student (right).
Left: Courtesy The Rock School. Right: Vikki Sloviter, Courtesy The Rock School
The three years Sarah Lapointe spent at The Rock School were game-changing for her. "It was one of the best decisions I've made," she says. "I learned how to pick up choreography very quickly and was given so many performance opportunities." Dancing seven hours a day alongside her schoolwork helped prepare Lapointe for her current pursuits, both in and out of the studio.
Now in her fifth season with Charlotte Ballet, Lapointe is working towards her bachelor's degree in kinesiology, and plans to graduate next summer. Juggling life as a professional dancer and a student keeps her incredibly busy, but she always makes it a point to come back to The Rock School each summer to teach. "It feels like one big family there. I always feel welcome to come back," she says. "The faculty is very supportive." Teaching at The Rock School has allowed her to keep her off-season artistically stimulating, which has been invaluable.
Lapointe cherishes directors Bo and Stephanie Spassoff's warmth and generosity, both when she was a young student and as she has moved on in her career. "When I first auditioned there, I was really intimated by the other dancers. Everyone was so amazing," she says. "I questioned whether I belonged. That was so silly because they welcomed me with open arms."