Family returns to Maplewood to teach art of dance

Lee family on pointe in Maplewood this holiday season

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The week between Christmas and New Year’s is often pretty dull, despite being book-ended by two such extravaganzas. But Maplewood Recreation refuses to let you have a boring break, so will be hosting a three-day winter ballet workshop at the Burgdorff.

From 1 to 4 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 27, through Thursday, Dec. 29, a winter ballet workshop, “Sugarplum Fairies and Tutus,” will run in the Burgdorff Community Room, 10 Durand Road in Maplewood, for all skill levels for age 6 through advanced.

Most exciting of all, however, is that fact that it will be a family affair, with the classes being taught by Maplewood success story Karen Eriksson-Lee and her two daughters, Marlene and Nastassia Lee, all professional ballet dancers and instructors.

Eriksson-Lee, who moved to Maplewood when she was in the fourth grade and thrived in its culture-rich atmosphere, recently opened NYC Classical Training in the West Village. Prior to that, Eriksson-Lee founded and ran the Northern VA Academy of Ballet in Front Royal, Va., from 1987 to 2009. Then, she moved to Carlisle, Pa., where she had been a faculty member at internationally recognized Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet since 2006. Eriksson-Lee had studied there in her earlier years, and Eriksson-Lee’s children — Marlene, Nastassia and Alexander Lee — all danced there as well.

For Eriksson-Lee, returning to Maplewood is like returning to an artistic embrace.

“It is always exciting to be back in Maplewood, and even more so this time, teaching with my daughters, whom I adore,” Eriksson-Lee told the News-Record via email. “They know how much of my heart is in New Jersey. Even though I have not lived here for many years, it feels like I am home whenever I visit.”

And this is not Eriksson-Lee’s first time back to Maplewood to share her love.

“In the fall, I offered a Musikgarten class at the Maplewood Public Library to a full house,” she said. “It was very nostalgic being back there as the library was always a huge part of my life growing up. My brothers and I did the summer reading programs every year, and it was truly a highlight of my life, leaving fond memories seared on my heart.”

Now Eriksson-Lee gets to instill some of that fondness for Maplewood in her daughters.

“Nastassia was an accomplished violinist at a young age, and a lovely and gifted dancer,” Eriksson-Lee said. “She has danced many variations in all the classic Balanchine ballets. She truly had the heart of a dancer and the soul of a musician. Growing up, she always had an incredible work ethic and, like any dancer who is truly passionate, would never miss class or rehearsals.”

Despite Nastassia Lee’s talent, she decided to go in a different direction for her professional life.

“At age 16, though, she decided to pursue other interests and became certified in sign language,” Eriksson-Lee said. “She will be graduating from Liberty University this spring with a bachelor’s degree in human services. She had a love and a calling to work with children living with disabilities, and has been an interpreter to students living with deafness and Down syndrome for a number of years.”

Luckily for Maplewood dancers, Nastassia Lee, 22, will return to her dancing roots for this workshop.

“I grew up in my mother’s studio and was basically dancing before I could walk,” Nastassia Lee told the News-Record. “Ballet was my passion, although I studied jazz, tap, modern, Irish step dancing and hip hop as well. By the time I was 7, my mother thought that it was time to introduce me to the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, where I fell in love with ballet all over again.”

But she explained that she found her true calling in helping others. Nevertheless, “dance remains an integral part of my personhood,” she said.

“Being able to teach again, especially with my mother, delivers a sort of full-circle effect,” Nastassia Lee said. “She was my first instructor in everything and dancing is an essential piece to the way that she had parented my brother, my sister and me. She believes, as I do, that ballet provides children with the creativity, the structure and the freedom to explore themselves and the world around them — as well as how to follow instruction and receive constructive criticism. These qualities serve as fundamental components to the cultivation of intelligent and empathetic human beings. Furthermore, dancing is the act of art in motion. And the world could use a little more beauty, don’t you think?”

And younger sister Marlene Lee, 19, took her dance background into acting and modeling, embracing her love of performance.

“Marlene was a lovely and gifted dancer who loved to perform,” Eriksson-Lee said. “She wanted to be an actress and model from a young age, and broke from ballet early on to pursue that dream.”

Marlene Lee is now finishing her final year of high school and has been featured in runway shows, magazines, music videos and television programs.

“Working with my mom is a very rewarding experience, and it doesn’t feel like work at all,” Marlene Lee told the News-Record. “I’ve been alongside my mom in the studio since I was a baby, so everything I learned in dance is from her. Working alongside her is just a natural experience for me.”

Marlene Lee stressed that, even though she is not pursuing dancing exclusively, it still plays a large role in her life.

“Dance is so important to me because it’s been in my life ever since I can remember, and can be a way to release stress. It has taught me many things and many lessons,” Marlene Lee said. “Dance offers so many different things in society, like a way to express feelings and even stories, but also provides entertainment. Dance is a form of expression that has been around since the dawn of time and is something that everyone can relate to.”

The ballet winter workshop will provide graded ballet technique to dancers of all levels. Each day, there will be a technique class taught by all three teachers, following by variations for advanced students taught by Nastassia Lee; art history and art projects on canvas taught by Eriksson-Lee; and essential hair and makeup techniques for dancers taught by Marlene Lee. Additionally, in the mornings, the family will run a Musikgarten workshop for children ages 4 to 6.

And Maplewood Recreation is looking forward to having the family members impart some of their wisdom to Maplewoodians, too.

“We are pleased to welcome instructor Karen Eriksson-Lee to our winter workshop ‘Sugarplum Fairies and Tutus.’ Her personal instruction makes for a memorable workshop experience for dancers of all ages and abilities,” Maplewood Recreation Director Melissa Mancuso told the News-Record. “Ms. Eriksson-Lee has developed a program that improves technique as well as boosts personal confidence. Maplewood Recreation added this program for budding and experienced ballet dancers looking to gain more intense workouts during their academic break.

“This is a great opportunity and a supportive atmosphere for a few days of physical activity and mental stimulation,” Mancuso continued. “Dance develops lifelong skills including the value of discipline, commitment and work ethic. As students meet new goals, self-confidence blooms and the idea of dreaming big is instilled.”

Tuition for the workshop is charged. To register, visit register.communitypass.net/Maplewood. For more information, call 973-763-4202.

Photos Courtesy of Karen Eriksson-Lee

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