Today we’d like to introduce you to Catherine Livengood Lewellen.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Catherine. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I grew up in Dallas taking ballet from many of the most influential teachers of the DFW metroplex, including Lisa Owen, Denise and Evelyn Brown, Thom Clower, Judy and Brent Klopfenstein, Kathy Chamberlain, Kelly Lannin and Nancy Loch; many of whom are still teaching the next generation of great artists. I quickly became passionate about having a career in ballet and by age 9, knew that I wanted to be a ballerina. I attended the Harid Conservatory, a professional ballet boarding school in Florida, on full scholarship as well as Booker T Washington High School, where I was in the repertory company and became a YoungArts scholarship recipient. During the summers I trained as a scholarship student at several prestigious schools including American Ballet Theatre, The School of American Ballet, Boston Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, LINES Contemporary Ballet, and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre where I joined the company as a trainee in 1997 after graduating two years early at age 16. While there I met Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson who invited me to work with Complexions Contemporary Ballet. I also had the pleasure of working with Alonzo King of LINES Ballet in San Francisco during this time and performed his work. After meeting these legends of contemporary ballet, I realized I felt stifled in my current situation and longed to explore a different style of dance. I wanted to be in New York, so I auditioned for and began my studies at The Juilliard School. I continued working with Complexions during that time as well as guest teaching and performing with local schools in the New York area.
A few years later, I moved back to Dallas when my father fell ill and made a big change in my life by retiring from dance and shifting my focus. I had always had a desire to work with children and adolescents and decided to pursue a career in counseling. I graduated summa cum laude from The University of Texas at Dallas with a double major in Psychology and Early Childhood Development and received a Master’s Degree in Counseling from Southern Methodist University, where I specialized in working with children and adolescents. I also met my husband during this time. At the end of my last semester of grad school I gave birth to a child with Down Syndrome (and later became diagnosed with autism as well) who ended up needing a lot of medical help. I was unable to continue the work it would require to obtain my licensing and certification and since I had continued to teach dance all throughout college that seemed the best way to work flexible hours and also care for my child with special needs. I taught and choreographed at ballet and competitive studios around the metroplex, bringing my love and passion for ballet to young kids who fell in love with it too. We began taking dancers to the world’s largest student ballet competition, Youth America Grand Prix, where I was awarded Outstanding Choreographer in 2013 for my ensembles that won first and second place and were invited to compete in the finals in New York City. I started to develop my core beliefs about how to develop and train elite dancers; I had so many ideas, goals, and possibilities I wanted to explore, yet I wasn’t ever able to fully implement them. I was hesitant to step out on my own to see all of these thoughts to fruition but after many years of designing programs for other people’s studios, I finally made the leap to develop my own program and create a company of my own… and Elite Classical Coaching was born. I didn’t know what the future would look like, but was optimistic and open. I had two dancers on board for this new venture and soon two more incredibly talented dancers sought me out, also looking for a different approach. I set up a custom training schedule for them geared to help them reach their specific goals and a few select events that would strengthen their professional needs, I created a website and some merchandise, rented studio space and got to work…a unique program unfolded!
During its inaugural year, ECC was awarded some of the highest honors presented by YAGP, the Youth Grand Prix Award, the Hope Award, and I received Outstanding Teacher. ECC student, Ava Arbuckle, advanced to the Final Round at the Koch Theater in Lincoln Center at the finals, which made her one of the Top 30 females aged 12-14 in the nation; an achievement that I believe has only happened to someone from Dallas one or two times in the 17 years YAGP has been in existence! My students have won first place in both contemporary and classical in each age division at World Ballet Art Competition-Grand Prix in both 2017 and in 2018 where I was also awarded Outstanding Teacher and Choreographer two years in a row. Elite Classical Coaching was awarded Best School at World Ballet Competition Finals in Florida this past June where ECC also won Gold, Silver, and Bronze Medals as well as Outstanding Choreographer. I was being shown I was on the right track and that the work we were doing together was making a difference.
I have trained, mentored, and coached students that have become Presidential Scholars of the Arts and others who are now in prominent schools and companies all over the world, including The Juilliard School, Los Angeles Ballet, Semperoper Dresden Ballet, School of American Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet School, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, USC, SYTYCD, Oklahoma City Ballet, Ballet Austin and Miami City Ballet. My students receive numerous scholarships year after year to programs like these and more. Since founding Elite Classical Coaching, I have been invited to display my choreography and soloists on national television for NBC’s World of Dance competition. I have also remained on faculty at Joffrey Ballet School’s Pre Professional Dallas Trainee Program and Complexions Contemporary Ballet Academy’s Dallas Summer Intensive.
ECC began with four students, changed to three midyear, grew to five by the spring, and has expanded to eleven handpicked females and two males for our 2018-2019 season with a full waiting list. We dreamed big and prayed bigger and all our dreams and more have come true! #dreambigpraybigger
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Like many starter companies and groups in the arts, I rent space to keep our overhead low and allow my format to stay personal and intimate. This is an ongoing challenge to make sure we have a space to work each day. When we first started, we found a new studio that had lots of availability and we were blessed with almost unlimited access. A few weeks before our biggest competition of the year, they closed and we were out consistent studio space for rehearsals. We have been blessed by studios such as Park Cities Studios, The Ballet Burn, and Legacy Dance Center in Frisco who graciously open their doors to us and provide beautiful space to rent, but the process in general can be difficult and stressful at times, as each studio has a full schedule of their own!
Please tell us about Elite Classical Coaching.
Elite Classical Coaching specializes in motivating, nurturing, and challenging dancers to reach their full potential by giving them the proper tools needed to succeed. Individual programs are designed to identify goals, maximize success, and stretch the serious dancer to their limits and beyond, all while teaching and maintaining the art of classical ballet as the foundation to enhance most styles of dance.
By an audition and evaluation process, ECC selects students that have the drive, passion, facility, talent, work ethic, and potential to succeed in a career in dance and works together with the student and family to develop a program that will quickly hone the child’s skills and make the dancer one that schools and companies around the world would accept with full scholarship. We maximize the dancer’s time by setting up only opportunities directly related to their end goals, work privately and semi-privately, along with small group classes and any outside supplemental training that is desired; most of our students participate in online or alternative schooling, leaving them flexible to travel for galas, competitions, and jobs. With our program, the dancer is able to take care of their health and nutrition, condition their minds and bodies, and achieve their goals in a much shorter time due to the efficiency and quality of the training. They typically find they actually have more time than they had before in a more traditional training or school setting. At the center of all of it is the focus on solid and consistent training in daily technique classes and steady conditioning work. Students are mentored and managed by me to be forward thinking and prepared for a career in dance from a holistic approach covering all bases of a young dancer’s life. We look for opportunities to help build their careers and connect them to the outside world; guest artists are frequently brought in for residencies to build connections and help the dancers become comfortable in audition situations; allowing them to learn different styles and points of view. Many students are presented with ambassador and modeling opportunities, TV and film appearance offers, and scholarships for year round and trainee programs. Competitions and performances are for the most part custom to each individual.
The freedom, openness, and collaboration I encourage within my students is one thing that I believe sets ECC apart. I use a different approach that allows students to seek out teachers they would like to take from, master classes they want to attend, choreographers they are dying to work with and helps them incorporate that into their training. We have our own daily class and private schedule but there are supplemental opportunities that we feel are imperative for optimal growth and provide inspiration, excitement, cultivate passion and goals, and help shape the dancer into the best version of themselves. I believe another thing that sets us apart is this more intimate custom approach. It is a double edged sword in that in order to keep this uniqueness I am only able to take on a small number of students which means turning away many talented dancers. In time ECC may grow to a more encompassing school but my goal, passion, and focus is that I am able to keep this personal approach at the heart of it.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
I have fond memories of playing with my neighborhood best friends, road trips with my family to visit grandparents, swimming with my fam and friends in our backyard pool, and dancing, dancing, and more dancing and all things related to dancing!
- Website: www.eliteclassicalcoaching.com
- Phone: 214-274-9056
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @eliteclassicalcoaching
- Facebook: @eliteclassicalcoaching
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