Corinne Jonas | Marin Ballet Alumni class of 1985
Mrs. Jonas Reflects on Marin Ballet: From Student to Professional to Administrator
Q: What was the impact Marin Ballet had on your life?
A: I was the youngest of three ballerina sisters who came to dance at Marin Ballet. I grew up within the walls of this building and have such a strong connection to this place. One of my greatest joys is that my life made a full circle: starting my dance experience as a five-year-old here at Marin Ballet, then going away to dance professionally with the Houston Ballet, and returning to dance with my sister’s ballet company, Diablo Ballet, then pivoting into musical theater, as one of the ballerinas in Phantom of the Opera in San Francisco. After I retired from my dance career and concluded 5 years directing the Berkeley Ballet Theater, finally coming back home to Marin Ballet to join the teaching faculty 18 years ago, and now adding on the role of artistic administrator.
I feel very grateful that I was able to return to my dance home and be more of an integral part of the organization as Marin Ballet celebrates its 60th anniversary.
I am fortunate to get to work with my very first ballet teacher, Laurie Klein, who I always admired greatly when I was a child learning to dance, but also as an adult learning to become a positive role model and a teacher as she has always been. It’s just wonderful to be able to say that I’ve come full circle through all these different aspects of dance from being a student to a professional, and now as a teacher to an administrator. I am so lucky to be able to work closely alongside Catherine Hader and to help support her vision so that we are not only producing wonderful, strong dancers at Marin Ballet but striving every day to give our students a very positive social-emotional experience here as well.
Q: How has your experience shifted from being, a student, and a professional dancer, to now being an instructor? Were there obstacles?
A: I am not somebody who knew right when I was done with my ballet career, I was going to become a ballet teacher. I come from a family of teachers. I even married a teacher who is now a public school principal. My mother was a teacher, my grandfather was a teacher and I’ve always loved working with children.
From student to a professional ballet dancer, there’s never a break from your training into your career. It must be a consistent flow. So, to suddenly cut ballet out of my life abruptly felt like I was denying a big part of myself if I were to just stop. Also, when I started my family, I knew I really wanted to keep my focus on raising my daughter, Hannah, and my son, Jacob. Becoming a ballet teacher was great because being a mom was a very new experience for me, but ballet was what I knew.
Soon, teaching became something that I was very passionate about. I remember going in and teaching a ballet class and feeling that, well, maybe my body can’t physically do this the way I used to, but I can still express it. I could support my students in how they do all these movements and challenging roles. And it became a way for me to instead of shutting off that part of myself, I could offer it up to my students. I guess the bottom line is, when you are a performer, especially a ballet dancer, you’re constantly giving. Our main motivation is to be able to give a gift to the audience by what we present on stage. This made for a very natural transition to be able to give back to my students.
Also, it is nice to be able to pass on all that I learned from teachers: the tough ones and the nurturing ones, they’re all inside of me. They are now part of who I am as a teacher. It can be something as simple as maybe a combination or an exercise I remember that a teacher gave me that was particularly strengthening or even a concept or a way to execute a step that was taught to me. I pass it all on to my students.
I’m constantly trying to share how I had to overcome challenges and tell my students; “you can do it too!” My main goal as a teacher is to be an ambassador for all that’s good, healthy, and beautiful about ballet. I never want to come across as very restrictive, negative, or too harsh. Dancers are often going to be harder on themselves than any teacher could ever be on them, so I rather come from a place of nurturing. I always want my students to leave my ballet class feeling that they were seen and that they made some adjustments that they could feel good about. And even if they couldn’t make those adaptations, they know what to work towards. I make a huge effort to make sure every student receives a bit of praise and leaves the class feeling good about their accomplishment.
Q: How has your training at Marin Ballet impacted you? Which aspect of your training had the greatest influence on your life?
A: When I first left for Houston Ballet, other than a solid technique, what set me apart from the others was how much performance experience I had at Marin Ballet. As part of MB’s, pre-professional youth company, we performed all over Marin and neighboring cities with our Nutcracker, Spring Concert, and Summer Showcase. We worked with many different choreographers, so I was able to learn and pick up choreography very quickly in a range of styles. I had a real comfort of being on stage and performing in addition to being well-versed in stage makeup, hairstyles, and pointe shoe preparation. This all served me in being given a company contract at the Houston Ballet.
Q: Have you taken any lessons from your experience as a dancer that you’re currently trying to convey to the younger generation of dancers? Are there any changes you wish to make and teach them based on your own experiences? What advice do you have for the younger generation of dancers?
A: At Marin Ballet, when I was a teenager, you had to put your feelings in check and just had to do the work. If something happened that you didn’t want or anticipate you couldn’t show vulnerability. If you were being criticized, you still had to put a smile on your face and get the job done. This was a hard lesson for me to learn because it was not something I learned in my family of origin. I was raised to be an honest communicator. In my family, my mother would often say, “Give yourself the dignity of your feelings.” If you feel sad, let yourself feel sad if you’re angry, let yourself feel angry.
Teaching this behavioral shift is definitely not something I enjoy conveying to my students, but I admit there was a huge benefit in me being able to function in stressful situations and to not completely wear my emotions on my sleeve. The fact that I was able to kind of roll with hard things helped me get my job in the Houston Ballet. I often had to dance in front of people who were criticizing me, and I was able to somehow do it with a smile on my face and not access the intensity until afterward. Part of that is how the dance world was at the time and still is in some places. The change I make in guiding my students through this is to tell them that there are going to be times when they must get the work done. Being able to function and hold oneself with dignity when people are being unpredictable is a really good skill.
Another lesson which I instill in my students, and one that I would have found incredibly valuable is around body image issues. Years ago, I started a little lecture series here called, Girl Talk in the Ballet World. It was just an opportunity where we’d go into an intermediate-level class and talk with girls on the brink of puberty about how to be a young woman with your body changing within the constraints of this ballet world.
I just thought, oh gosh, wouldn’t this be amazing if we could, even as awkward as these conversations can be, have a real heart to heart. It can be so challenging when your body’s changing as you dance in a leotard and tights in front of a wall of mirrors. During this vulnerable time, it is even more imperative to see your body as your instrument. There are always days when we are feeling bloated or for whatever reason not liking what you see in the mirror. So, can we actually talk about that, name it, and not make it a forbidden conversation? Can we hear from our peers’ suggestions on how to get through a class when you’re not liking what you’re seeing in front of the mirror? And let’s go further, what do you do when you’re on your period and still have to put on a costume and go out on stage to perform? One of the coping mechanisms I use is to ask my students, “How does this movement feel in your body?” So, okay, today I’m not loving what I’m seeing in the mirror, so to quiet the critical voice I’m going to think about how it feels in my body, or I’m going to focus on a movement that feels nurturing and wonderful in my body.
Just recently, I got a phone call from a former student who participated in “Girl Talk” when she was a pre-teen teenager, and now, a junior in college, she just said how she still thinks about how much this “real conversation” helped her get through a hard time, and that nobody else was talking about these issues. She thanked me for bringing it to her class and allowing them the forum to talk about their body images.
Additionally, I am very proud of a program I started during shelter in place at the onset of Covid which is called Ballet Buddies Connect. I realized that once we were all dancing in our homes separately, on Zoom classes but physically isolated from our classmates, and our teachers, that we were all missing the connections that make being a ballet student so special. Dancers are not usually trained in private lessons, this is a group activity, so when suddenly everybody was separated, I just thought, we need to find a way to connect.
So, Ballet Buddies Connect, or BBC, meant that we were connecting with our peers, but it also initiated a wonderful opportunity for our older students to mentor our younger students and for our younger students to have some time with the older students and build those connections. One of the things I love most about the Marin Ballet community is how the younger students clearly look up to the older students, but the older ones always remember what it was like to be the younger ones, and the connection they share is so authentic and enthusiastic.
We met weekly throughout Covid discussing topics related to dance, and celebrating the holidays together, we did a choreographic project, an Emotions into Movement series, and had different interviewing times where we would have the younger ones interview the older students. And then when we came back to Marin Ballet, we were able to still have BBC, but in the studio together. Aside from just working on ballet techniques here at Marin Ballet, I believe the friendships formed within the training completely help the social-emotional journey that all our students are undertaking.
Q: What is your favorite memory at Marin Ballet?
A: Wow. As you’re asking me this question, my brain is flooded with pictures of different events I have experienced at Marin Ballet which is pretty wild. I’m 55 years old and I started here when I was five. That makes for a lot of memories! During my last year in high school, I was the sugarplum fairy in The Nutcracker and returned to guest in what was probably my last Nutcracker before I retired from my professional career. And that was really an amazing kind of closure on my ballet career.
I also have a memory of rehearsing in Studio E with Sean Kelly, who is an alum and one of my dearest friends, to this day. He was the Nutcracker Prince, and I was Clara, and he was working on his arm strength for this big overhead lift. We were so young, maybe 13 and 15yrs. old. I used to have to give him extra support when he tried to get me up. He’d lift me and I’d drop to his shoulder, and I remember the day that he finally got me up in the lift and the incredible feeling of being held in his arms as he carried me around the room, he was so excited, and I was so excited. Once he had gently put me down, it was just a celebration. I mean, that’s a milestone to get to be part of someone’s first overhead lift, it felt very special.
My best memories as a teacher, are every year during spring concerts, or spring showcases. I’m usually with my students, as they line up right outside of the doors of Studio A. It brings me back to being a student lining up outside of the doors of Studio A, ready to go out to perform. I love those moments of seeing the anticipation on their faces and reckoning with their nervous energy. But what I love most is to sneak out behind them and sit down in the dark right there in the doorway to watch them perform. I love watching with pride as they apply all the different modifications that we’ve been working on and see them using their stage presence. The energy that comes from all those rehearsals to the performance makes me feel like I’m the proudest mama ever. It’s such an adrenaline rush to be right there with them the moment the applause happens, and they dash off back through the doors of Studio A. I get to run after them and tell them how well they did. Those are really good moments.