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Alumni Spotlight: Stephanie Scarpello

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Introducing Stephanie Scarpello, Marin Ballet Alumna:

Stephanie Scarpello embarked on her dance journey in 1988 at the age of four, while her mother was teaching at Marin ballet. She dedicated over a decade to dancing before she discovered her passion for the behind-the-scenes of ballet while assisting her mother with school performances. Stephanie fell in love with teaching ballet, particularly working with young children, and decided to pursue it as her lifelong career. Despite her mother’s retirement, Stephanie continued teaching at Marin Ballet, and she expresses her gratitude for the incredible impact her students have had on her life.

After dedicating 20 years to Marin Ballet, Stephanie expresses her gratitude towards her students and coworkers in this article. Although she bids farewell to Marin Ballet, her connection to the dance world remains unbreakable.

Q: how has Marin Ballet impacted your life?
A: Oh tremendously so, Marin Ballet is my second home. My mom taught at Marin Ballet for 28 years, and so I started dancing at a very young age. I fell deeply in love with ballet, and it completely consumed me while growing up. I’m pretty sure I used to sleep in my leotard and ballet slippers because I never wanted the magic to end. I spent most of time time here between my mom teaching and me taking classes, so there was no way not to love it. My years dancing and watching all the wonderful teachers at this school, truly shaped my future. It inspired me and lead me to in to teaching ballet as well, which has been my passion and joy for 20 years. Marin Ballet has left a huge imprint on my heart.

Q: What was it about teaching that you found enjoyable?
A: I truly love everything about teaching, even the challenges are rewarding. Everything is possible in a child’s eyes, and their love and excitement for what they’re learning brings me so much joy. I love starting from the very beginning, whether it’s showing our youngest ballerinas the magic and beauty of ballet, or our Level 1 primary students, and teaching them in detail the mechanics of each step they learn, and watching their creativity as they come up with what we should think about as we execute each move (a favorite is imagining hot lava when they first learn a pique, to help them understand and feel the quick movement of the step). I love how eager and excited the students are to learn. They’re tremendously talented and capable of so much more than we can imagine. Children are very special, particularly in the youngest levels that I teach in pre-ballet. My mom always said, (and I do as well because I truly believe it): it’s about instilling the joy and love of dance. We want them to leave class each week with a smile on their face. And that’s such a special gift for me as well, to see the children happy, and feeling accomplished and proud of themselves. Particularly as you get older, ballet takes incredible commitment, and that drive comes from the love and joy you have for it. Watching their love for ballet grow reminds me every day of the love that I had for ballet when I was their age and how magical it can really be.

Q: What valuable lessons or knowledge did you gain from your training at Marin Ballet?
A: You carry your training with you, and it constantly manifests itself. I believe it greatly contributed to developing my laser-like focus. Once I set my mind on something, regardless of what it is, I become fully committed. It also fostered a strong work ethic, dedication, and loyalty within me. All these qualities are necessary to persevere in ballet. It’s a beautiful art form but demanding. I believe that the effort you invest in ballet is something that stays with you throughout life. My training shaped me greatly in my teaching, and in turn, my teaching has now shaped me as a mother, and helps in raising my own son.

Q: Can you identify any aspect of your training that had a significant impact on you, apart from the development of focus? Is there something that you try to instill within the ballet community?
A: I learned the importance of supporting your fellow dancers and having compassion, particularly because dance world can be very competitive. In my studio, all the children work together, I make sure they’re all encouraging one another, and proud of not only themselves, but their classmates as well. One of the sweetest moments I remember, and will forever hold in my heart, is when I had a student who wasn’t feeling confident in her polka’s, which we were practicing across the floor. She stood there frozen, scared, and refusing to try the step. Another student, who had already had her turn, stood up and walked right over to this dancer and gave her a hug, and asked if she could hold her hand and do it with her. Immediately, the hesitant dancer took her hand, and proceeded to do her polka’s, but with a new friend and support by her side. I was brought to tears in the moment, because to me, there is nothing more beautiful or important than that. I’ll forever be incredibly proud of both of those students.

I really do see the students at Marin Ballet support one another and have great friendships that have developed over the years. That’s a great gift in this community.

Q: As you mentioned your mother worked here, do you feel that her experience influenced your decision to pursue a career in this field?
A: Definitely, she is without question the reason I wanted to pursue teaching. She was always so wonderful with kids and it was her passion in life. She loved teaching so much, and her love for ballet was so deep and it radiated… it’s absolutely why I wanted to dance and eventually follow in her footsteps. Once I started teaching, I realized why it had made her so happy over those years. She was deeply inspiring and so dedicated to her work. Her students just loved her. If my mom and I were out somewhere, we would almost always see one of her students, who would run up to her and shout, “Mrs. Lando!” as they threw their arms around her for a hug. She brought so much joy to her students, and made such an impact on their lives that it was incredibly inspiring.

The opportunity to teach my first class arose when my mom had to go out of town, and I was asked to teach one of her classes for her. I had never taught on my own before, and I was so nervous, but she supported and nurtured me the way she did with her students, and made me believe I could do it. And in that first class that I taught, I realized why she did it for so many years because it was so special, the children were the sweetest, and to put it simply, it was fun. I had the best time teaching, and when the class was over, I immediately called my mom and said, “This is it. This is what I want to do with my life.”

It’s been a huge blessing to be able to follow in her footsteps and I’m going to miss it greatly. I am incredibly sad to say goodbye, but the time has come where I need to shift my focus, and dedicate my time to my family, who have endlessly supported me through my years at Marin Ballet.

I was blessed with my beautiful son, Landon, who’s only four years old, but the time is flying, and I don’t want to miss a second of it. My mom, who was always there for us all, no matter what the need, is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and I want to be there unconditionally for her and my dad, as we give care and navigate this next chapter.

Marin Ballet has seen me through my entire life. I grew up at this school, began teaching in college, it was by my side when I met my husband, and had my son. It’s been a part of all the major events of my life and I’m forever grateful.

Q: What are some of your favorite memories at Marin Ballet?
A: Oh goodness, I have so many. I remember when I was maybe 6 or 7 years old, I was too young to actually be in the show, but we did this special parade through one of the local malls where we had dancers in costumes, parade through the mall to advertise Marin Ballet’s Nutcracker. I remember getting to wear the sheep costume (we’ve had several reimagined Nutcracker productions over the years, and used to have the “Shepherdess and her Sheep” where our “Golden Goose and Eggs” are now). I felt incredibly special in that moment, I’m wearing this fuzzy sheep costume, but I was beaming with pride and excitement as we paraded through the mall. Then fast forward to my first year actually performing in the Nutcracker. I vividly remember I was a “Shoe Child” (where we now have our gingerbread dancers), and that was the most amazing moment to me. I was so little and young, but I felt like I had never worked so hard in my life, every waking moment was spent practicing my steps for that dance, and I never wanted it to end. I had the time of my life. Every year performing was a tremendous gift, and made all the hard work more than worth it.

I have to say, I look back, and our Nutcracker has gone through a lot of transformations over the years, but I can honestly say that our production now, choreographed by the remarkable Julia Adam, is my absolute favorite, and just spectacular.

I loved performing, and we were so fortunate to have several opportunities through the year. I loved our end of the year programs, and the Pre-ballet showcase, which we still do today. In fact, there are even some dances that I still have my students perform that I did when I was five years old with, with Mrs. Klein, who I’m so fortunate to say, was my first ballet teacher. Mrs. Klein is the most extraordinary teacher and, such a wealth of information. I’ve been so honored to not only be her student, but to teach along side her. She welcomed me in to teaching with open arms, and guided me through, supporting me and sharing her endless wisdom, and magical teaching skills. After 20 years I still have so much to learn from her.

One specific Mrs. Klein memory to end my long answer to this question…

I remember in class one day, she said to us “practice doesn’t make perfect.” We looked at her a little puzzled because we had all heard so many times from other people that “Practice makes perfect”, and now it supposedly doesn’t?  She told us that “Perfect practice, makes perfect” It took me a while to fully understand what she meant because I thought, how can I practice perfectly? I didn’t quite get it. And then suddenly one day it clicked that you must practice something the right way to perform it the right way for it to be “perfect”. I’ve hung on to that for so many years. It’s not just the performance that we want to try our best for, but the everyday work is where it really counts. Every day we’re in class and we are doing the same exercises, but that’s where the effort really matters. I’ll never forget that.

Q: As your time at Marin Ballet comes to an end, is there anything you would like to discuss or share about your experience?
A: This is a big moment. I’ve seen this school go through so many transitions over the years,  but I’ve never been more proud than where Marin Ballet is now. We’ve got the most supportive and lovely community now, and I feel so honored to have had 20 years at this school having taught along side of so many wonderful and talented teachers. I’m so fortunate to have been so deeply supported over the years, and will miss everyone greatly. I look forward to transitioning to a supporter of Marin Ballet, and devoted audience member, as I cheer on my former students and faculty members. This school has a very bright future, and I’m excited to see it as it continues to grow and blossoms under our lovely director, Catherine Hader.

My teachers while training at Marin Ballet were gentle and kind, but so supportive and helped you to achieve your goals. They’re true teachers and they, along with my mother, inspired me and taught me how to teach. And I strive to be like them. Being given the opportunity to teach felt like it was gifted to me. When they offered me a position to teach here, I was so honored and humbled, but I very excitedly jumped at the chance and never looked back.

My students and their families have been tremendously impactful on my life. I carry them all with me, from my very first class teaching, to my last. My very first students are now in their twenties, which I can hardly believe because they were adorable little three-year old’s at the time, but I carry them with me every single day and I will always remember them so fondly. I will miss them so much, and that’s the hardest thing to say goodbye to.

The transition from student to teacher was made so smooth by the support of the faculty. I didn’t anticipate that it would be as wonderful as it was. Everybody embraced me instantly as a teacher and helped to guide me and lift me up and support me. And I’ve been so blessed to teach alongside of so many amazing teachers. I’m endlessly grateful to my mom, who put that spark for ballet in me, and for modeling to me how to be a teacher and her love for her students. She retired in 2016 after teaching for 28 years, and I’m so glad that I was able to carry it on for a few more years past her retirement. And I know I can speak for the both of us in how much we love and adore our students and how much of an impact they’ve had on our life. I am so incredibly grateful for these 20 years.

I may be moving on now, but like I said, you’ll never really keep me away.