An American-themed pizza restaurant, with walls decked in Route 66 signs and Top 40 Radio playing in the background, is where Butler Ballet ate one night last May. But this was not down the street in Indianapolis; this was the first night they arrived in Poznan, Poland.
After taking a train from Warsaw to Poznan, the group hopped on a bus headed towards a hostel located in Town Square. Because the bus could not drive through Town Square, the dancers stood on the cobblestone streets of Poznan, with their luggage in tow, at midnight. That’s how Butler Ballet ended up at the American themed pizza shop that evening.
Last May, many members of Butler Ballet toured Eastern Europe for three and a half weeks mimicking the touring life of a professional dance company. Butler Ballet travelled to six cities in four countries as a part of the 2014 European Dance Seminar Trip offered by the department of dance.
The six cities included: Warsaw, Poznan, Bratislava, Vienna, Krakow and Prague.
The dancers had to run to ballet class after a night in a sleeping car, go straight into rehearsal and perform, all in one day. The dancers learned how to manage with little sleep and eating strange food in order to perform well.
Taking class abroad taught the group many lessons that extended past their expectations.
“It showed us how hard we are going to have to work to get where we want to be when we go to auditions,” Elise Filo, a junior in the program, said. “Seeing the caliber of dancers there gave us the extra push in our training.”
Dance professor Marek Cholewa traveled with the group and acted as the tour guide. Cholewa trained at the National School of Ballet in Poznan and loves to share the culture of Eastern Europe with his students.
“Taking the students to the museums and castles, showing them from the mediaeval times up to the end of the 19th century, that was very powerful,” Cholewa said.
Cholewa said the trip was special because the students showed interest in the arts and different cultures. The rain did not stop them from exploring and experiencing all of the cities.
“I so enjoyed being immersed in a new culture that I would pick up my bags and go dance for a company in Europe,” Annie Mushrush, a senior dance pedagogy major, said. “At the drop of a hat I would do it.”
Beyond the challenges the group faced in the dance studio, the group grew in other aspects.
“It was definitely a bonding experience,” Filo said. “Butler Ballet is really close as it is, but I think living together and experiencing a different culture really brought us all closer together.”
Junior Robyn Jutsum said the trip solidified the fact that dance is a universal language. She was pleased to find Butler Ballet could still create a successful and productive class environment when many of the ballet instructors did not speak English.
The dancers plan to return to campus with a refreshed appreciation for the art form.
“I think as much as the trip was physical, it was much more of an emotional journey,” Junior Annie Johnson said.
Johnson believes she has found an emotional drive from the trip that helps her continue to dance. She is also glad to have been on campus for two weeks to continue practicing in a more familiar environment.
Jutsum will remember the mornings when they got off the train at 6:30 a.m. to dance as she gets ready for class this year.
“If I could do it then in a different country, I think I can do it now,” Jutsum said.
As Butler Ballet prepares for the new school year, the members that experienced this trip will carry the memories and lessons with them to center stage.
“It did make an impact on their lives and will even more in the future,” Cholewa said. “I’m very sure about that.”