Heather Murtagh/Daily Journal
Kristine Elliott showcases moves for her dance students during a class at the Peninsula Ballet Theatre in San Mateo Friday morning.
“One and two and three and four,” Kristine Elliott called out to groups of three girls rehearsing a new number during a class Friday morning.
About 12 girls with varying ballet abilities listened as Elliott gave encouraging direction regarding moves for a piece about Cupid at the Peninsula Ballet Theatre in San Mateo Friday morning. Elliott is one of the teachers helping with a three-week intensive summer dance program. Often the direction would result in smiles. For instance, Elliott instructed a couple of girls to be gentle with their hand movements at the start, which were meant to signify the sprinkling of love dust, not garbage, she told the girls with a smile.
Those who weren’t dancing watched or practiced along the sides — an instruction Elliott gave after pointing out that practicing is what dancers do while waiting.
Elliott, who has been teaching ballet for numerous years, is doing it for the first time at Peninsula Ballet Theatre this summer. But, it’s a little like coming home for the professional who grew up in San Mateo and started studying ballet with the Peninsula Ballet with one of the founders, Richard Gibson.
“Bringing Ms. Elliott back for this summer intensive at Peninsula Ballet is the type of full circle that exemplifies the traditions of professional ballet,” said Christine Leslie, Peninsula Ballet’s president and CEO. “Ballet has always relied on gifted artists handing down their skills, artistic insights and traditions to new generations of aspiring artists. Kristine brings her significant experience, her talent and her passion to our program. PBT is very fortunate is to have her return and offer this special opportunity for our students.”
Elliott started dancing on a whim. A girlfriend was interested in taking a class so she joined. It was through her inspirational teachers — along with the help of a scholarship to the Ford Foundation — that allowed her to remain involved in the art while growing up in San Mateo.
Ballet teaches a person many life lessons like respecting your body, being on time, exuding confidence and working toward a goal, she said.
After graduating from Aragon High School, Elliott stuck with ballet. Her decision has allowed Elliott to travel, dance and teach around the world. Elliott’s career has included working with the Stuttgart Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. Working with so many inspirational teachers have influenced the positive and supportive style with which she leads a class today.
Elliott fell in love and married her husband 30 years ago — a move that brought her back to the Peninsula. It wasn’t a smooth transition to teaching. Elliott was unsure, at first, that leading a class was the right fit for her. Now, she loves it. For more than 20 years, Elliott has been teaching at Zohar School of Dance in Palo Alto. She’s also taught at Stanford University, which is how Elliott was introduced to international efforts to support dance in other countries, particularly South Africa. Over the last 10 years, traveling to teach in townships in South Africa. Elliott’s first trip was through a grant at Stanford. Now, she worked with LEAP, liberal education for arts professionals, and takes college dancers with her on many of the trips.
Of course, there is a language barrier. That doesn’t create challenges when it comes to dance. The movements and music are universally understood.
“It doesn’t matter where you are in the world. Ballet always starts in the same place; with the left hand on the bar,” she said.
What Elliott has needed to practice is the names of the youth she’s teaching.
When not dancing, Elliott enjoys spending time with her large family, reading and gardening.
For more information go to peninsulaballet.org.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105