Amanda Edge demonstrates a ballet dance for students in the Lake Charles Civic Ballet’s recent Summer Intensive.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 03, 2012 11:37 AM
Billy Ward and Amanda Edge are sitting on the floor of the new Lady Leah Lafargue School of Dance ballet studio on Common Street in Lake Charles. Or rather, they’re not sitting, they’re stretching.
Still dressed in their gear from the morning’s dance classes, the two can’t quite keep still as they discuss their passion — ballet.
“It’s such a fabulous relief to come and celebrate with music and with these God-given bodies,” Edge says. “Dancing is a celebration. You have to let everything go.”
“Ballet is such a focus art. Everything just goes away,” Ward adds. “It’s freedom.”
Professional dancers Ward and Edge have spent the past two weeks teaching at the Lake Charles Civic Ballet Summer Dance Intensive. Friday was their last day before returning to their careers in New York City.
The Summer Dance Intensive is a six-week program that brings in different professional dancers and instructors from around the country to work with young dancers in Lake Charles.
For Ward, teaching at the Lady Leah Lafargue school brings his dancing journey full circle.
Ward started his career with at the school in late 1977.
Two of Ward’s sisters danced, and Ward used to work stage crew for the ballet’s shows. Lady Leah Lafargue, who owned and ran the dance studio at that time, pulled Ward to the side one day and asked him to take his shoes off and point his feet.
“She looked at them and said, ‘you should be a dancer,’” Ward said. “I just thought ‘this chick is crazy!’”
Lafargue invited Ward and his brothers to come to the studio and learn to waltz and perform other social dances.
“Then she challenged us to do a ballet step, a jump. We did it and as we were going across the floor, I remember looking in the mirror and thinking that we all three look good doing this. We were all athletic and played sports in early high school,” Ward said. “I just remember thinking that it was fun. I derived a sense of joy from it.”
“Leah employed a little bit of psychology, too. She said I’m going to teach you a jump, but then said ‘oh no, you probably can’t do it,” Edge added to Ward’s story.
“She did a reverse psychology thing on us. But then, of course, we were cocky and we had to do it,” Ward said.
About a week later, Ward showed up for the class, but none of the other guys were there.
“I snuck to the corner to get my bag, but she caught me at the studio door. She put me between two of the girls at the barre and told me to do what they were doing,” Ward said.
Six months after he began dancing, Ward had earned scholarships to six different performing art schools. He went on to the North Carolina School of the Arts and then to School of American Ballet.
He has danced professionally for 28 years, 27 of those were with the New York City Opera performing at the Lincoln Center. He currently makes appearances as a dancer on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.”
Edge has an equally impressive career.
Originally from Austin, Texas, Edge has been dancing for 31 years and professionally dancing for 20. She spent 15 years with the New York City Ballet and has spent the past five years on Broadway. She currently performs in the “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway.
Ward and Edge have been together for 14 years.
This was their first time to teach at the Summer Intensive in Lake Charles, but it was not Ward’s first time to dance with these students.
Ward had also come back home in March to perform in the Lake Charles Civic Ballet’s performance of “Sleeping Beauty.”
“To come back and teach was a little weird at first. I just shared the stage with them and a couple of them I had partnered with. It was an adjustment,” Ward said. “Plus my personality just isn’t strict, especially with kids. I’m the cut up.”
Ward and Edge worked with students on improving their technique. They also focused on tempo and musicality.
“I love teaching. Every group of kids is different, each with different strengths and different personalities. They respond to different things and in different ways and it makes me love teaching. This was a good group,” Edge said. “I’ve had a great time. Starting at 8 a.m. — that’s been the hardest part.”
Edge also said that they showed videos of professional dancers performing anything from classic ballet to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”
“For me, certainly as a kid, I was a really visual learner. To see really exceptional dancers performing in a variety of styles is inspiring. It also helps develop a respect for all forms of dance,” Edge said.
“So much of dance is mimic. When I went to the School of American Ballet, all these brilliant dancers were in my classes. When I got that visual, I got what it was supposed to look like. I may not have been able to do it technically yet, but I would know the aesthetics of it,” Ward added.
Lady Holly Hathaway Kaough, who runs the dance school and the Lake Charles Civic Ballet, said having professionals like Ward and Edge come in is “extremely important” to the growth of her dancers.
She said having Ward come back as a “homegrown talent” and Edge, who has danced in “what people look at as the premier company,” meant much to her students.
“The vast majority of the kids that come through will not have a professional career, but there will be one or two in each crop that this really is something that moves them and changes their life,” Kaough said. “I think that they have a really important role here.”
Both Ward and Edge said they had a great time teaching the students, but felt that the mentorship aspect of the intense program was the most important part.
“They get to see that you really can do this for a living. It’s not just a hobby,” Edge said. “Even them getting to ask questions about what it’s like and to see that people who are dancing professionally in New York or anywhere else weren’t born and raised dancing professionally in New York. They come from places like Lake Charles.”
“And Katy, Texas, and Carthage, Texas,” Ward interjected.
“It’s studying and working hard and having that dedication and commitment and seeking out good training. Then, before you know it, you can be dancing professionally somewhere. I think it’s cool for them to have that example in front of them who had a life not so dissimilar from theirs,” Edge said.
“My mother came to watch today. I know they know I’m from Lake Charles, but I think because I’ve been gone since 1979 they don’t really palpate that,” Ward said. “But when I introduced them to my mom and my sister, they were like ‘they do really live here!’ I hate to think that I’m special to them in anyway, but ...” Ward said.
“No, you’re a hometown guy. Of course it’s special,” Edge jumped in. “They go, ‘Billy’s from Lake Charles. I’m from Lake Charles. He’s dancing professionally, and I could do that, too.”
Posted By: steve leveque-hoston tx On: 7/1/2012
billy glad you came back to teach your talents,i can remeber when you enjoyed the benefits when lady brought those dancers from nyc for summer workshops in the 70,s memories.break a leg billy,its been a hell of a career for you