A Wilmette Institute Student Explains How She Combines Teaching Ballet and Character Development

Laura Reinschmidt, a learner in the Wilmette Institute course The Bahá’í Faith and the Arts, in a unit called “The Bahá’í Writings Open Up New Ways of Doing Old Things,” shared the following story with her fellow students and now with us. Laura owns a school of classical ballet called Ballet North in Kansas City, Missouri.

One of the things I have noticed is that the writings of the Bahá’í Faith open up new vistas as we pursue our careers—new ways of doing things, new ways that diverge from the paths of our venerated teachers and instructors.

Let me give an example:

Ballet Virtues Class

Laura Reinschmidt with her students at Ballet North studying virtues cards

When I first opened my school of classical ballet, it was my goal to do the best, be the best that I could, in teaching my students. When I arrived in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1976, there was no KC Ballet School. In fact, after dancing in Boston Ballet’s school and both performing and teaching for NC State Ballet, I was surprised that I could not get a job in the Kansas City area because I was told that no one would take just ballet.

All dance classes were combo classes. I was extremely puzzled by this, because on the East Coast, a serious study of ballet required daily classes, usually an hour and a half in length, to become proficient. In contrast, in Kansas City students took a once-a-week class of a combination of dance (cannot call it ballet), jazz, tap, and acrobatics. Hence I ended up opening my own school because no one would hire “just” a ballet teacher. I started with thirty-three students. One year later I had over one hundred.

After a number of years I had a moral dilemma (whether this dilemma would have occurred had I not been a Bahá’í, I do not know).  The dilemma was this: My object in the training I was giving dancers was to help them become professional dancers. However, many of them did not have the talent. Others did not have the desire to be professionals. I knew that the ballet training gave them good posture, poise and grace, self-discipline and perseverance. The training was good for them as young people, whether they pursued a professional career or not—it enhanced their character.

But in realizing that 90 percent of my students were not going to pursue a professional career, I decided to augment their dance training with character training. This was touched on in the readings [in the Bahá’í Faith and the Arts course] one week. And it exactly represents the situation I was in. What if the students got all the self-discipline, perseverance, and so on out of the training, but, since many of them did not go to church, they had no moral compass with which to direct themselves? But how could I provide the moral compass without infringing on parents’ belief systems? In 2000 I found the answer to a prayer.

I discovered the Virtues Project, and my husband and I became facilitators. We taught our teachers and told them that every class would start with a virtue. We use the virtue cards available through the Project. As the students get older, of course, we expand their understanding of these virtues.

Ballet Performance

A highlight pose featuring three students from Ballet North in the piece “Prayer—adagio for strings” performed for the Kansas City, Missouri, Interfaith Council in 2011

At first some of the teachers were very uncomfortable, until they realized we were not preaching religion to our students. What started as a matter of conscience quickly became a selling point for our school. I could not believe that our good intentions were being rewarded financially, even though we were going down a road very different from that of our beloved teachers. No other school in my profession is doing this, which is a shame, because we have the training of these young, impressionable minds and hearts in their formative years.

After being in this profession and seeing the results before and after introducing the virtues and character training to our students, I have seen them develop into young adults of which their parents and I can both be proud.

Anyone who is a teacher of the arts, who is also a Bahá’í, has the ability to impact positively the lives of their students (and their fellow instructors). Because it takes at least ten years to become proficient in any of the classical arts, if that study is combined with the character training that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told us about more than one hundred years ago, we will see a revolution in the impact that artists with a vision have. We will have a cadre of artists who know that there are and should be limitations to what they allow themselves to perform, present onstage, in film. In short, we will have artists who know what is acceptable to God and man and what is not. And if such artists are no longer pushing the envelope of decency and modesty, they will find other, more suitable envelopes to push!