Pirouettes, Pliés, and Pointe Shoes: A Peek Into the Lives of Ballet Teachers Carrie Cheng and Natalie Bracken ‘05

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Natalie Bracken ’05 helps ballet students before the recital. Photo courtesy of Natalie Bracken ’05.

Lily Hyde, Reporter

Feeling as though there are butterflies performing a million pique turns in your stomach, you anxiously sit by your barre spot as you wait for your first ever ballet class to begin. You glance at the clock to the right and notice the hour hand slowly finishing its climb to the 9:00 mark, signaling the beginning of class. The studio door opens, and two women enter. “Hello fourth graders, we are Mrs. Cheng and Ms. Bracken, and we are so excited to have the opportunity to teach you ballet and watch you grow over the next few years.” You immediately begin to feel your eyes crinkle as joy tugs at the corners of your lips, knowing deep down that these two individuals will be the ones who you will be able to turn to about anything throughout the rest of your years at FWCD and beyond; the two individuals who will ultimately become like family to you.

Teaching students from fourth through twelfth grade, Director of Ballet Carrie Cheng and Ballet and Theatre Teacher Natalie Bracken ‘05 witness the growth of their students from the first time they step foot in the studio to the last time they ever saut de chat across the stage.

“What I love most about working with such a range of ages is being able to watch the growth of our students as they get older, both as dancers and human beings,” Bracken said. “We see our students through their highs and lows, and when they reach their senior year, we get to look back and think about how much we’ve gone through together.”

With only a few breaks here and there, every single day is a marathon for Cheng and Bracken, as their typical day is filled with an infinite number of tasks: classes, rehearsals, and preparing choreography, just to name a few.

“My first class always starts at 8:00 a.m., so I’m usually at school by at least 7:45,” Cheng said. “Throughout the day, I teach an average of four middle school classes. From 4:00 to 5:00 or 5:30 p.m., I teach class for the Upper School, and I stay at school rehearsing until 5:45 or 6:00 p.m. I spend the rest of my evening teaching for the Ballet Conservatory, and I’m either planning for class or preparing choreography from 9:00 to 11:30 at night because I usually do not have much time during the day where I can do so.”

The Ballet Conservatory is an after school program that welcomes any student within the DFW metroplex to come and learn the art of dance. Within this program, Cheng and Bracken teach students of all levels, whether they are just beginning to learn the basic steps of ballet or are aspiring to become a professional ballerina. 

Even on their most draining days, there is one thing that Cheng and Bracken seem to always have an infinite supply of: patience.

“For only two people, they run an entire sports department that spans across nine grades of students,” Gabby Pettit ‘21 said. “Yet, they’re both still here every day and teaching us with as much patience as possible.”

Working with a sixth grader, then turning around and working with a fourth grader, then turning around again and working with an eleventh grader: where does one get the energy to do it? For Cheng and Bracken, the answer to that question is simple: passion.

“With such a heavy teaching load, I sometimes question myself, asking, ‘How did I do that? How did I teach so many classes?’ But teaching ballet is just something I love so much that to me, it never feels like it’s really work,” Cheng said.

Carrie Cheng guides students as they rehearse for the recital. Photo courtesy of Lily Hyde ’24.

Twice a year, costumes with breathtaking hues, headpieces that wink under the stage lights, and a cornucopia of bobby pins come into full bloom. In the studio and backstage, the feeling of excitement and nervousness is ubiquitous, as the time that each dancer has long anticipated has finally arrived: the recital week.

Throughout this week, Cheng and Bracken direct countless rehearsals, making sure that each student is prepared for the performance. What many do not know about this week, however, is the incredible amount of time that Cheng and Bracken put into preparing the stage and costumes for the recital.

“A week before the recital, we begin preparing the theater, putting marley (surface for dancing) down on the stage and making sure it is not too slippery,” Bracken said. “We have to create and send out a rehearsal schedule for every grade level, steam every costume, find all of the headpieces, and spend multiple hours organizing, which is daunting. After the recital, there is an incredible amount of laundry we have to do, an incredible amount of putting away props, and an incredible amount of organizing the costume closet.”

Though the recital comes and goes, there is one thing that every ballet student, regardless of whether they are just beginning to learn how to do a plié or have been dancing for years, gets to experience on a daily basis: the safe, comforting environment that Cheng and Bracken strive to cultivate within the studio.

“Being a part of FWCD ballet for six years now, I’ve never been in another department that harbors such a consistent and loving community to be a part of. I have Mrs. Cheng and Ms. Bracken to thank for such a safe place to go to at the end of a hard day.””

— Gabby Pettit '21

Now, as you perform your last ever saut de chat across the stage, you begin to feel your eyes crinkle as joy tugs at the corners of your lips, reflecting on all of the ways in which your ballet teachers, Mrs. Cheng and Ms. Bracken, have contributed not only to your love of dance, but to who you are as a human being.