I started dancing when I was 10 years old at Oakland Ballet Academy under the direction of Ronn Guidi. For nine years, he was my only teacher, setting the foundation for what would one day become my professional career. Through him, I discovered my love, passion, and natural coordination for ballet.
Ronn’s professional career included directing what was then Oakland Ballet [now Oakland Ballet Company] in Oakland, California. He was seen as a visionary in the industry, and under his leadership, the company gained international recognition. When he eventually retired, he chose to keep his school open and developed a pre-professional company with his students. That’s when I met him.
Ronn’s primary focus was emphasizing the simplicity of technique and how it could help us find freedom in dancing. He wasn’t concerned about super-high legs or five pirouettes. He just wanted us to be clean and share our personalities, which was wonderful for me, because all I really wanted to do was move. He helped me explore who I was individually, and brought that out in my performance.
His teaching style was simple, clean, gentle, and refined. He always said he wouldn’t spoon-feed a dancer with endless corrections—he thought it would teach a student to rely on someone else rather than their own minds. He loved light jumpers and didn’t want a forced first or fifth position. He wanted us to dance lovingly and to perform during class so that it would eventually translate to an audience.
One specific skill he taught me that I use in my professional career today is that movement should create a picture all at once. Each step should be like a flower whose petals open at the same time. For example, if you do a pirouette, your arms and legs should arrive in the position at the same time, rather than moving in pieces. I loved the way he taught, and I soaked it up like a sponge. That lesson, and many others, developed maturity in me as a dancer. Now, I don’t even have to think about it. When I do a relevé développé or a piqué arabesque onstage, the correct pathway is already ingrained in me.
When I graduated from Ronn’s school at 19, I took his lessons with me to the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, Russia. There, my teacher Ilya Kuznetsov built on Ronn’s clean movement by giving me the fundamentals of Russian technique. Then, Mikhail Sharkov took things a step further by helping me bloom and blossom with big, expansive movement. He never gave up on me and pushed me past my limitations. The lessons from these three men have carried me through my career as a professional at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, to Central West Ballet in Modesto, California, and finally, now, as a principal at Colorado Ballet.
Ronn passed away a couple of years ago, but if he were still here today, I would say: “Thank you for imparting your wisdom, funny jokes, and ‘isms’ on me as a dancer. I carried them through my training in Russia and into my career. The love of dancing I acquired from your school really helped me, and I can’t thank you enough for your love. It has stayed with me.”