• Jeanne Marie

Salt Lake City Dancer Re-Creates the Dance Studio and Ballet Culture with it

Updated: Mar 9

Photo provided by and credited to Rise Up School of Dance, featuring Alyssa Bertelsen Ruesch. Special Thanks to Asher Fulero and Youtube Free Audio Library for providing music titled Web Weaver's Dance.

This past weekend, Rise Up School of Dance, a non-profit ballet school focused on bringing dance to underserved communities in Salt Lake City, Utah presented its version of The Nutcracker, with both in-person, COVID-safe performances and through a live Facebook feed.

Phone placed on table leaning against white bowl, playing the live feed of The Nutcracker by Rise Up School of Dance during the battle scene of the performance with the Nutcracker performer in the middle.
Live feed of Rise Up School of Dance's The Nutcracker, on December 5th, 2020

Traditionally, The Nutcracker includes performances stereotyping cultures that spark debates about the holiday traditions’ racist beginnings and perpetuation.

Alyssa Bertelsen Ruesch, creator and executive director of Rise Up School of Dance, decided to add a special twist to her school's Nutcracker that would better reflect her student body.

Working to change ballet culture, starting with the kids who love the form, Alyssa strives to create a diverse, positive, well-rounded environment in all aspects of Rise Up School of Dance.

Rise Up School of Dance's website

She has implemented practices such as weekly wellness classes, daily physical, emotional, and mental check-ins based on age groups, and making sure the kids have access to homework resources and family time.

“Rise Up is not just another dance studio,” says Roxanne Lebenzon, a friend and peer, “It is a space for children to learn how to be confident and healthy through movement.”

Ruesch explains, that a lot of research in child development and psychology, communication with her peers and teachers about what negative experiences they’ve encountered in the dance world, and experimentation in how to create a well-rounded, healthy practice that makes ballet a fun, empowering activity for their students went into and continues to influence Rise Up School of Dance’s practices.

Alyssa Bertelsen Ruesch and peer working on laptops. Photo provided by and credited to Rise Up School of Dance

These practices, a divert from the more traditional forms of authoritarian ballet teaching,

have shown that the approach can create skilled dancers, according to Ruesch.

“My kids are on par. They are reaching the goals set up by ABT,” says Ruesch who participated in the American Ballet Theater training that teaches the prestigious curriculum which sets ballet ability expectations of each age group.

Lebenzon also tells how Ruesch, not only recreated the dance studio environment but also worked to make ballet accessible to all.

“Alyssa has opened her doors to students who do not have the means to pay for ballet by offering scholarships and classes on a sliding payment scale. This has wiped away barriers - barriers that have traditionally prevented individuals from engaging in dance,” writes Lebenzon.

Ruesch’s version of The Nutcracker follows along with her philosophy by replacing the second act dances with storybook themed performances reflecting her young student body.

The stories included consider the traditions of The Nutcracker but exemplify Ruesch’s generous personality; For example, instead of the Tea or Chinese dance, Ruesch created a take on the characters of the Three Blind Mice, who re-enter after the battle scene between the Mouse King and The Nutcracker in the first act and ask Clara and The Nutcracker for forgiveness, which they gladly accept and allow them to join in the fun, Ruesch explains.

Rise Up School of Dance's Nutcracker from a previous year, Provided and credited to Rise Up School of Dance

This unfailingly compassionate story demonstrates just one aspect of Ruesch’s altruistic demeanor, to which her peers and community continue to rally around, inspiring them on a number of levels.

“When she talks about Rise Up, her passion for influencing the dance world with kindness and patience is apparent. I wish that every young dancer could experience the gift of learning from Alyssa,” writes Andrea Maguire, a peer from Ruesch’s college days.

Elyse Jost, another peer and dancer, wrote on her Facebook page, “I always said (in my very young, very naive years) that I “didn’t want to teach with my dance degree, just dance.” Wow, what a close-minded world view I had. I started to change my tune after a number of experiences, but one of the most pivotal was teaching with Alyssa at Rise Up School of Dance back when it was a paper sign on a door and a tiny little dream. What Alyssa embodies within her spirit and for the good of the Salt Lake area is pure love, and what she

does for her community is irreplaceable.”

A number of Facebook fundraisers, including the one Jost shares in her post, have been created by supporters alongside the school’s fundraisers in order to bring even more financial support to Ruesch’s work, showing the community’s dedication to the non-profit.

Alyssa has united her community and set an example for the dance world by reimagining what a ballet environment can look like, developing great dancers made in nurtured and genuinely respectful conditions, as well as creating well-rounded, healthy, community citizens.

If you’d like to learn more about Rise Up School of Dance, you can visit the school’s website at www.riseupschoolofdance.com as well visit their Facebook page and Instagram account.

Photos provided by, featuring, and credited to Rise Up School of Dance.

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