From left: Sarah Lapointe, Derek Dunn and Jeanette Kakareka. Courtesy The Rock School

What Keeps These Rock School Alums Coming Back to Teach

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."

Latest Posts


Whitney Ingram

Revisiting Julie Kent's Dance Bag, 20 Years Later

Julie Kent was our very first Show & Tell when Pointe magazine launched in spring of 2000. Then a principal with American Ballet Theatre, Kent carried a second bag entirely dedicated to her pointe shoes. Twenty years later, she is now the artistic director of The Washington Ballet, and no longer needs to tote her pointe shoes. "For 40 years they were like a part of my body," says Kent. "And now they're not part of the landscape until my daughter's old enough to go on pointe." Nevertheless, Kent's current role keeps her in the studio. She always carries practice clothes and ballet slippers for teaching and rehearsals.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Courtesy Frederic Van Strydonck

In This New Short Film, Beatriz Stix-Brunell Shares Why Her Pointe Shoes Are Both Friend and Foe

"The pointe shoes are part of my instrument," says Royal Ballet first soloist Beatriz Stix-Brunell in the new short film "Friend & Foe," a two-minute exploration of Stix-Brunell's love/hate relationship to her pointe shoes. "They're like a second skin to me," she says, later adding, "And it never gets easier."

"Friend & Foe" was directed by Belgian filmmaker Frederic Van Strydonck. And though it's hard to believe, the whole thing was shot on his Xiaomi MI 10 cell phone. The film is presented by Xiaomi Studios, a promotional branch of the Chinese electronics company. Van Strydonck is no stranger to filming on cell phones; before creating content for Xiaomi, he worked for Apple, showcasing the capabilities of iPhone cameras.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Tulsa Ballet in Ma Cong's Tchaikovsky: The Man Behind the Music. Kate Luber Photography, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet.

Updated: Mark Your Calendars for These Online Ballet Performances

Updated on 4/8/2020

As COVID-19 has forced ballet companies around the world to cancel performances—and even the remainder of their seasons—many are keeping their audiences engaged by streaming or posting pre-recorded performances onto their websites or social media channels. To help keep you inspired during these challenging times, we've put together a list of upcoming streaming events and digital performances.

Keep reading SHOW LESS