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theresa slobodnikI had the most wonderful opportunity of spending my third year of college studying Ballet for a brief time under Terry. Her teaching style, studio, and productions reminded me so much of the studio I grew up in and missed desperately when I left for college that I immediately felt right at home with her when I went into her studio for my first rehearsal to be “Dawn” in their 2010 production of Coppélia. She has an intense desire for all her dancers to be at their best, and she tirelessly motivates, works, and encourages all her dancers in a way that you cannot help but feel as if anything is possible. She is the perfect mix of kindness and drive, getting the best out of you simply because you want her to be proud of your work. I feel so blessed to have been able to dance for her. When I decided I wanted to do this series for the blog, I immediately hoped that I could get an interview from Terry. Even though she was entrenched in directing Ballet Theater San Luis Obispo’s latest performance of Robin Hood, she kindly agreed. She has some fantastic insights into the world behind the stage and how she has been able to follow her dream career, as well as be a wonderful wife and mother to five children along the way. So, here she is in her own words:

Whats your dance background? How/when did you decide to make it your career?

My mother had stopped her dance training as a child and always regretted it. My mother found a woman teaching “contemporary ballet” through the recreation department in Concord, California. This was in the mid 1950s. Margery Stevens had been a ballerina who became a protoge of Martha Graham. She was brilliant and taught her own blend of modern dance and classical ballet. Her annual programs were not so much recitals but big Ballet Russe-like productions. My first role at age 3 was the Pig Baby in her “Alice in Wonderland”. I was very shy and cried through the entire experience! Mrs. Stevens went on to produce incredible programs: “Chess”, “Ondine”, an Egyptian piece and Western piece I don’t have names for, excerpts from Swan Lake and so on. I remember real live ponies on stage! I remember big, exotic productions with sets and lighting where everyone knew their part was important. To pay for our lessons my mother traded costume design and construction. She hand-made patterns for all the parents with hand-written instructions. If someone could not sew she made their child’s costume! In addition my father made prop and set pieces.

Our family of 7 lived the east SF Bay area. I have very powerful memories of trips to the War Memerorial Opera House, ACT and San Francisco State to see performances of ballet, opera and theatre. As my family had little expendable income, most of these were final dress rehearsals.

Mrs. Stevens moved away when I was 11 years old. Her replacement was a devastating dissappointment. I quit dancing for four years. In high school I began studying Graham based modern dance with a wonderful teacher named Miss Toy. We developed technique, choreography skills with criteria and production management. She also implemented classical ballet barre and center work. This felt like a return to a lost love and I began my journey back into dance. The modern jazz boom had hit the Bay Area and I studied with Rec Russel. Back to ballet was with Lee Salsbury, a tiny but colorful and powerful woman from New York, and Patrice Nissen who taught the Royal Academy of Dancing (R.A.D.) syllabus. I had a good deal of catching up to do!

image via terry slobodnik

Terry with partner Carlo Sierras / image thanks to terry slobodnik

I have to say I did not decide to make dance my career. I was surfing, rock climbing, back packing, white water rafting and kayaking…….anything outside! I married my husband of 39 years at 18 years old. Our first of 5 children was born when I was 20! We were loving each other and life here on the central coast. But dance would not let go of me. In fact it became my primary passion outside of my faith and family. I was extremely fortunate to have a dance opportunity here on the central coast which gave me a mentor (Gilbert Reed) and a dream career.

Even though you love what you do, have you ever/do you currently have doubts about what you’re doing?

Because I never really planned all of this I know it is a gift. I check in regularly with God and put what I am doing before Him. I give it up.

If God wants me to continue I am willing to do the work, but I have to know it is His plan….not mine.

You have children, a husband, and now grandchildren and yet you’ve been able to continually build your dance studio into a thriving business and artistic outlet. How did you balance it all?

Again, knowing this is what God has me doing is they key. On the family side, my husband studied ballet for 3 years and we actually performed and partnered together! He was an Architectural Design major at Cal Poly. He comes from a very artistic family: his father a tenor, his mother a painter, his sister a violist. He has always loved what I do and supported it in every way. He now designs and builds all my ballet sets! We have raised our 5 children to value the arts. They all play multiple instruments, the girls each danced for 10 years, one is an incredible ceramicist and voice performance major, the other is a painter and high-end chef. One son has his own band and another is a cellist working on his degree in cello performance. They all are very proud of what I do and that their parents are in it together!

image via terry slobodnik

terry with mentor gilbert reed / image thanks to terry slobodnik

Even if someone isn’t planning on seriously pursuing a dance career, or even ever performing on a stage, why should they consider dancing? What about dancing, and in particular, ballet, relates to improving your everyday quality of life?

Studying dance is extremely rewarding on so many levels: physically, creatively, emotionally, spiritually, socially. People have always danced.

Studying ballet gives you the life models of respect, discipline, and striving for the mastery.

Ballet, at least classical ballet, in many studios I’ve danced in isn’t the most popular with young students and new dancers. They often choose jazz, hip-hop, or modern. What does ballet offer that other dance styles can’t give?

Ballet offers the classical discipline: the science of how the body moves, the life time quest of mastery, the power of artistry, which, when studied, gives tremendous fulfillment.

What’s your biggest challenge in directing your own studio? What keeps you motivated and in love with what you do without reaching the burn-out stage?

While I am the Ballet Director at Dance Obispo, I am not the owner. I would say the biggest challenge for owner Sheri Thompson and myself is keeping the enrollment up. Our studio’s highest priorities are its ballet training and performance opportunities. In addition to being a home for Ballet Theatre San Luis Obispo, we have Youth Ballet Obispo. Our youth program involves regular performance opportunities in the community. It is a constant challenge to successfully communicate the values of consistency in class attendance/training and artistic development.

image via terry slobodnik

terry in studio directing rehearsals / image thanks to terry slobodnik

If you could tell your 23-year-old self something, what would you say?

Life is short. Follow your passion.

 I want to say again to Terry, thank-you so much for giving me this interview. I hope all my readers enjoy reading it as much as I did! She is such an inspiring individual, able to seamlessly balance her passion for dance, her love for God, and her devotion to her husband and children into a beautiful life. I have to think her ballet training gives her a little edge: even when she’s stressed, she still has an aura of elegance, grace, and endurance. From her peaceful exterior, you’d never know that woman was quite the superhero.

– ❤ A. 

Other Dancer Diaries: 

  photo by vince trupsin at elevation studios copy  alexguestpost  ballet two copy

       part two                part three                     part four