Dance is a language of physicality, movement, expression. And its eloquence is seldom rivaled.
Lindy Mandradjieff created the Dance Conservatory of Charleston (danceconservator ychs.com) to share its vocabulary. An artist formerly with the San Francisco Ballet and New York City Ballet, she is an exceptionally lithe and youthful “retiree” devoted to preparing her pupils for life, not just dance.
After training at the School of American Ballet in New York, the Pittsburgh native joined the San Francisco Ballet at the tender age of 17, not much older than some of her current students. The mother of three boys, she has returned to the studio following a stint in public relations and event planning. Like many, she had to step away from dance for a time to rediscover how important it was to her.
Mandradjieff opened the conservatory’s West Ashley location in June of 2017. Her connections in the dance world have allowed her to bring in world-renowned dance professionals for a special master class series.
Recently, the Conservatory was named resident dance school of the new Daniel Island Performing Arts Center.
What brought you to Charleston?
My husband received a wonderful job opportunity in his field of orthopedics, and that was the beginning of our love affair with Charleston, a city rich in history, with beauty all around, and with a long-standing appreciation for art and culture.
What was the genesis of the Conservatory?
I found myself in a position where I was ready to take on more of a leadership role in the dance landscape of Charleston. My goal was to combine the elite technical training of a preeminent American dance academy with the heart of a community dance center.
Did you detect a need that was not being filled, or was it more a case of adding a distinctive new voice to the “chorus”?
I was inspired to bring my experience as a teacher, along with the benefit of my deep personal relationships, to offer students the kind of experiences they might not otherwise have access to.
What are the prerequisites for a student to be accepted?
At this time we accept all students. We offer a variety of levels and classes, from Mommy and Me to Ballet 1 – 4 and pre-professional, as well as teen and adult classes. Whatever one’s ability or interest, we have a class for you. We also offer jazz, tap, hip-hop, contemporary and modern classes. We believe the diversity of genres and methods is an important component to truly educating our youth in the arts.
Your professional connections help you bring in internationally famous dancers to work with students in the master class series. How many in any given year?
We bring in a preeminent teacher who is at the top of her or his field about once a month to work with the dancers. Typically, the classes are for intermediate and advanced dancers, ages 10-plus. Past teachers have included School of American Ballet faculty members and former New York City Ballet principal dancers Suki Schorer and Jock Soto. In the summer, we will host Parrish Maynard, ballet master for the Kansas City Ballet and former dancer with the American Ballet Theatre and principal dancer at Joffrey Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. We are exploring other ways for the community to benefit from these masters.
Is it of paramount importance for you to help prepare students for whatever will be expected of them, whether they pursue dance professionally or some other career?
Yes. I take my role in my students’ lives very seriously. I believe training in dance in general and ballet in particular teaches students the value of discipline, dedication and attention to detail. In addition, I use classes to elevate the importance of everything from posture to perseverance to finding your inner joy. My students go on to be successful in the professional dance world, at the university level and in other careers after dance.
Do you adhere to a particular theory of dance or dance instruction?
At base, we teach the Vaganova technique. I believe a firm understanding of classical technique is paramount to other types of movement. As the students get older we begin to introduce other styles, like the Balanchine style. My own professional experience has shaped my understanding of the need to be versatile in today’s dance world.
Movies often portray ballet instructors as taskmasters, excessively demanding and even cruel. Is this stereotype unfair?
The focus on discipline and high standards is true to life, but [the depictions] are like any caricature—an exaggeration. Ballet dancers are human, just like the rest of us, and deeply in touch with emotion.
As a teacher, how do you strike a balance between being exacting and encouraging?
I look at them the way I look at my own children. I try to help them with challenges while encouraging them to develop their individual strengths. And, always, I believe in them.
Is it important to you that you instill or further develop a love of dance that will stay with students the rest of their lives?
Definitely! To pass on what I love so much about this art form to the next generation is one of the greatest rewards of teaching. The other is to meet so many amazing families and students and truly be an active part of helping their children find their passions and realize their dreams.
Bill Thompson covers the arts, film and books.