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New Ken native opens ballet school in Oakmont

The strength and beauty that is synonymous with ballet has just twirled into a second-floor studio in Oakmont with the new Western Pennsylvania Youth Ballet.

New Kensington native Michael Villella, who has danced professionally with Ballet Austin II and the Oklahoma City Ballet, says he is providing the region with one of the few dance schools dedicated solely to this traditional form of dance, requiring training and then more training, not to mention discipline.

"I wanted to create a place where kids can learn and prosper properly," Villella says. "I wanted to set the foundation regardless of whether students decide to dance professionally. This training will be a part of their life."

The chiseled, robust musculature of the 24-year-old dancer is testament to the professional training he has had since he was 17.

But sculpting a body into a dancer's form is just the start. Villella is just as interested in developing the attitude of a dancer. "With ballet, you learn how to make yourself do something," he says.

And, a gift for dancing isn't enough, either, Villella says. It is the ambitious student willing to put in the time who will succeed.

Been there, done that

Villella has done just that, according to David Hukill, former president and current board member of the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in Carlisle, where Villella trained.

The day after he graduated from Valley High School in 2006, Villella packed his bags and headed to Carlisle.

"Michael has the most incredible work ethic of any student I've seen there," Hukill says.

It wasn't unusual for Villella to come to the studio early in the morning and continue training into the night.

"And he's a born teacher," Hukill says. "He loves technique and how things are put together."

Villella says because he started ballet at such a late age, he was able to understand the importance of the basics. "It's easier to start at a younger age," he says, because the body is easier to mold.

His classes are set up to include a "mommy and me" program for 2- to 4-year olds accompanied by their moms, and classical ballet for 5 years and older. Adult lessons are available, too.

Taking the right approach

Stressing the life experience that ballet can teach, Villella dubbed his new company's tagline: "Changing lives through art."

It's not just fluff. Villella's approach is natural and clean: The school's list of expectations stresses that students will not wear glitter, cross straps or see-through clothing. Only clear or "ballet pink" nail polish, pink or colored tights, depending on level of development, and hair pulled back tightly and neatly are acceptable.

And, that's just appearance.

"Above and beyond ballet," students are expected to "live a healthy and respectful lifestyle, being polite and courteous in and out of the studio," the school's brochure states.

It's a whole package, according to Villella. Structure, discipline and concentration are key to success,

"You learn how to focus energy," he says.

After practicing for four years at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Villella became the professional dancer that he wanted to be.

From the start, he wanted to teach just like one of his mentors, Marcia Dale Weary, founding artistic director of the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet.

Besides the influence of teachers, Villella says that he can offer his students insight into his professional experience as an apprentice with Ballet Austin II and a company dancer for the Oklahoma City Ballet.

"I've learned what is expected of you and how you take care of your body," he says.

Villella says he appreciates the drive and will of youth, and says that his ballet program can harness that youthful energy.

"Little ones want to be the best," he says. "They strive for it, and that's why I love teaching them."

NOTE: The school is on the second floor at 508 Allegheny River Blvd. Enrollment has opened for classes, which will begin this week. For more information, call 724-316-1104, or visit www.wpyballet.com .

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