St. Augustine Adult Ballet: Though only two hours away, this trip was a milestone

Every year challenges you in a different way.  2019 tested my ability to continue ballet and launch this blog despite barriers such as a slim budget, family demands, scheduling conflicts, guilt, feeling generally lost and more.

Me after class at St. Augustine Adult Ballet, which operates out of a studio called The Dance Company

It often felt like I was hobbling along, only to make incremental progress. But, unlike other years when I’ve succumbed to adversity and quit ballet, I persevered.

Through it all, I’ve made some of my biggest dance achievements yet. Now, I’ll finally be able to share with you my first real writeup on an adult ballet program: St. Augustine Adult Ballet.

As you’ll learn below, my trip to St. Augustine, Fla. not only allowed me enjoy a family trip to an interesting new destination while staying in ballet shape over the 2019 Christmas break, but also to take a major step toward blogging about adult ballet experiences.

Why I Chose St. Augustine 

Choosing a location for this trip was a major part of the journey. I had to consider several things, including the practicalities of traveling with my family while doing a dance trip.

Here are the top reasons I chose St. Augustine:

Reason 1. An effort to balance dance life with family life AND pursue the blog

By the time I reached the end of 2019, I knew I wanted to do something that would allow me to feasibly progress the blog. 

At the same time, my husband and I were looking forward to planning a winter trip with our daughter – a trip we felt was long overdue.

The only question: where would we go?

A friend told me about an adult ballet intensive she’d be doing while visiting her parents in Austin, Texas. Held at Ballet Austin, the intensive was four hours a day for about three days, I believe, and it had an in-studio performance at the end. 

Me and my husband on Christmas Day, shortly before the trip to St. Augustine

I’m seeking more opportunities to perform in a no-pressure, adult-friendly environment and the travel accommodations were reasonably priced, so it sounded like Austin could have worked perfectly. 

But as you may guess, that trip never happened.

After researching the crap out of it and almost booking it several times, I decided to hold off in the hope that I can go next year. It was kind of last minute and I felt guilty about dragging my family there when their interest level was “meh.”

Before hearing about Austin, though, my husband and I had talked about several options, including St. Augustine. He’s become familiar with it through work trips and it’s only two hours away. Plus, the city’s annual Nights of Lights Christmas tradition is an especially popular attraction. 

Additionally, I’d been researching a ballet option there and what I found was equally good, just totally different.

So, St. Augustine it was!

Reason 2. An effort to improve my pointe work

Not only did I find an adult-specific ballet program in St. Augustine that was open over the winter holidays when many studios are closed, but when I reached out to the director, Jennifer Dournaux, she responded promptly and was so supportive of my blog that I knew it would be really easy to communicate going forward.

Me and Jen Dournaux, the director of St. Augustine Adult Ballet

I was also impressed by Jen’s dedication to her adult program and her qualifications. You’ll read more about that below and in a forthcoming Q&A.

But the most exciting part was that when I asked to schedule two private pointe lessons, there were no ifs, ands or buts – which sometimes happens when you ask for private lessons. I got an immediate YES, and she was flexible about when we could do them.

Because of these pointe sessions, St. Augustine turned out to be better for me in many ways than Austin would have. 

I’ve been trying for more than a year to get my pointe strength and technique back after taking some time off from ballet, and have experienced a variety of issues that have made it difficult to do so.

Here are a few examples of the pointe-related barriers I’ve encountered:

  • Classes aren’t available at my level
  • Classes aren’t given at a time I can take them or in a studio close enough to my home
  • Most classes are for teens rather than adults, which is sometimes OK but not always desirable 
  • Recital or production routines are often rehearsed during classes
  • Wearing pointe shoes in an adult ballet class is not allowed or desirable 
  • Private lessons are difficult to schedule

You may have experienced some of the same issues when trying to progress in the area of pointe work, so I’m sure you can imagine why it was such a relief to schedule two private lessons with no issues.

Reason 3: I’d been meaning to make a trip to St. Augustine for quite some time

St. Augustine is a fascinating and mysterious place. For many years it seemed so close, yet so far. 

When my parents, sister and I used to drive from New Jersey and New York to Florida to visit my grandmother, we would often stop at the I-95 rest stop in St. Augustine, but we never visited the city itself.

The Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

More recently, my husband and I made it a goal to go there. 

We’d both spent time and lived in other Florida locales, and while all of them have interesting histories, St. Augustine is perhaps most known for its history – which is fairly unusual for Florida as it’s more commonly associated with sunshine and theme parks.

For comparison, you probably learned about other colonial East Coast locations while in school, such as the English settlement in Jamestown, Va. That colony was initiated in the early 1600s, but St. Augustine had become a Spanish stronghold many years before.

Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is the “oldest permanent European settlement in the continental United States,” as noted in a National Park Service Brochure about the Castillo de San Marcos, a Spanish colonial fort and probably the city’s most notable landmark. 

Me and my daughter at the Castillo

The city draws millions of visitors each year to its beaches, museums, restaurants, ghost tours and other attractions. Plus, the locale’s proximity to other Florida cities, such as Orlando, make it a convenient stop on a road trip.

My Visit to St. Augustine Adult Ballet

Run by Jennifer Dournaux for more than 10 years, St. Augustine Adult Ballet is an adult ballet program that currently operates out of The Dance Company located at 370 A1A Beach Blvd. Jen also teaches standard studio classes there.

The SAAB program, which offers a variety of ballet, barre and Pilates classes, has been based at other studios in the past —but this one is ON THE BEACH!

It was my first time taking a dance class with a beach view, and I must say, it was weird but cool. 

A view of the beach while standing at the barre in one of the classrooms at The Dance Company

Of course, you can only see the beach during daytime classes, because the beach at night is basically pitch black. The curtains are also pulled down to avoid distractions from passersby who stop and check themselves out in the one-way reflection.

But overall, I found it refreshing to see the ocean during class and to have the option to visit the beach so easily alongside a ballet project. 

The program’s director

I was drawn to Jen’s enthusiasm for teaching adults and her rich educational and teaching background. It was such a relief and so helpful for the blog that I could communicate with her easily and directly, despite her busy schedule. 

Here’s a brief bio: 

Jen trained to become a professional ballerina and danced briefly with Southern Ballet Theatre before it became Orlando Ballet. 

Rather than join the company, she decided to attend college and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a Master’s Degree in Humanities from Tiffin University in Ohio. 

Jen later became a certified Pilates instructor and has additionally earned certification in American Ballet Theatre’s National Training Curriculum from Pre-Primary through Level 3.

Working on that attitude (photo by Jeannette Bratcher)

Interestingly, she’s also a college humanities professor covering art and dance history, among other topics.

Jen’s interdisciplinary understanding of the history and physics of ballet, combined with her warm personality, contribute to a positive experience for any student.

For example, she talked about how the movements of ballet are very scientific, partially because around the time Louis XIV was codifying the art form as part of French aristocratic society, he was also working to create a formal institute for science.

This made so much sense once she said it.

After some brief research, I learned that the Royal Academy of Dance, which later became the Paris Opera Ballet, was established in 1661 and the Royal Academy of Sciences was established in 1666 – all during the Scientific Revolution.

In many ways, such developments stemmed from the earlier Renaissance, which was when ballet originated in Italy and when European explorers began to sail to and colonize other lands.

Coincidentally, the First Spanish Period of St. Augustine’s history, 1565-1763, loosely overlaps with and is linked to these major European eras.

While this is an extremely broad summary, merely touching on interrelatedness of a few subjects, Jen had the unique ability to spark my interest in them as I was exploring this historical city, making the experience even richer.

Tourists photographing a historical military reenactment at the Castillo

The classes

I took class twice: on Saturday, Dec. 28 from 10:30 to noon and Monday, Dec. 30 from 6-7:30 p.m. Both were open-level classes, more or less at the intermediate level. The Monday class was one of two Monday evening sessions scheduled in December especially for the holiday break.

The Saturday class was exciting because it was my first time visiting, but also because it was a pretty full class. Don’t get me wrong – walking into a new situation like this can be intimidating, but still, exciting! 

About 18 or 19 people attended, including one professional dancer who was in town visiting her parents. 

Note the ocean beyond this corridor outside The Dance Company

A standard studio or program has to have the right elements in order to attract a professional dancer, I believe. I’m talking about smaller programs – not schools affiliated with companies or large powerhouses like Steps on Broadway in New York City.

Attractive features may include being open and available at key times, offering drop-in rates, having a good location and a reasonably updated studio, and providing a class challenging enough for a professional to enjoy. Perhaps most of all, it has to have a teacher that’s informed and seasoned enough to cater to a very experienced dancer. 

As far as what the Saturday class included, we covered a full range of barre, center and across-the-floor combinations, such as a warmup facing the barre, a center combination reviewing the body positions, and even a brief choreographical bit that required lines crossing.

We also did a fun Spanishy combination across the floor that included pas de basque, pirouettes with hands on the hips and dramatic epaulement. I mentioned the combination to Jen after the fact and it turned out that the Spanish element was a coincidence. 

The Monday class was good too but had a different vibe. I guess I’d say I found it more low key because had less people – about 8-10. In my regular weekly classes, I also find that Saturdays have a different vibe than classes during the week.

*Btw, by low key I don’t mean easier. Monday probably felt more difficult than Saturday because I was increasingly tired from the trip.

The privates

This amazing grouper taco was part of an after-class meal at Cantina Louie

My two 30-minute private pointe lessons occurred after each of the regular classes.

They were thorough and helped me focus on various turns, which is what I told Jen I wanted to do. They also included combinations with several strengthening releves at the barre.

Jen paced the lessons so they weren’t too much or too little, and pushed me enough so that I felt like I accomplished something. She also gives hands-on corrections, which you don’t always get as an adult.

So for my first solo private lessons, these were a success!

Here are my interpretations of a few of Jen’s corrections to myself, others or the class as a whole:

  • Arabesque
    • Make sure to point your working-leg toes and be careful not to incorrectly wing your foot, as that may compromise the full stretch of your leg if done incorrectly. In the meantime, you can continue to work on the correct muscles for a winged foot.
    • Keep your head over your shoulders. 
    • Push your belly button forward, not down to the floor. 
    • Elongate to lengthen your spine and separate your bottom two ribs from top of your hip.
    • Pull your opposite shoulder to the foot of your working leg, but don’t let your scapula twist.
  • Going from retire to attitude derrière: Rotate your inner thigh forward so your leg is in the same position, but rotated.
  • Degage or jete on pointe with releve: Feel the opposition from your extended toes to your opposite shoulder – like the tension of a suspension bridge. This tension/opposition goes for any extensions.
  • When your heel drops in a turn, it’s often related to glute/thigh strength.
  • When your leg is extended a la second above 90 degrees, you have to shift your ribs to the opposite side of your leg.
The park next door to The Dance Company

Program Info

Schedule and Pricing 

I absolutely love that Jen posts an updated calendar listing each month’s class schedule. It’s especially helpful for someone who’s traveling from out of town, but it’s great for anyone who needs up-to-date schedule info.

Single class drop-in rates are $10 for a one-hour class and $16 for a 1.5-hour class.

If you’re in town for a while, you can choose from a variety of pricing packages ranging from a five-class card for $65 to an unlimited monthly rate of $135. Yes, $135!

Contact Info

Check out the program at www.staugustineadultballet.com or on Facebook at St. Augustine Adult Ballet.

Email: moveandflow@hotmail.com

Phone: (321) 698-0180.

Parking

The studio is next to a public beach with a large pier, where events are sometimes held. Once in awhile, the beach parking – which is where many students park – is closed off and students need to resort to another transportation plan.

If there’s no space in the beach parking lots, Jen noted, students often park just south on 16th street, have someone drop them off or ride their bike over. Jen said she also tries to post an update on Facebook when parking changes are in effect.

Thanks for reading!

I hope you get a chance to check out St. Augustine Adult Ballet someday. Maybe you’ll keep it in mind for a future vacation to Florida!

My goal is to feature many more adult ballet opportunities, and I’m currently trying to make that financially possible.

Don’t forget to comment below, contact me at findingballet@gmail.com or follow Finding Ballet to receive new posts in your inbox.


3 thoughts on “St. Augustine Adult Ballet: Though only two hours away, this trip was a milestone

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