QUEENS — Gabriela Darvash, considered one of the best ballet teachers in the world, is coaching local talent at a Jamaica dance school.
Every morning, the Romania-born ballet star whom Mikhail Baryshnikov called one of the "distinguished and fine ballet pedagogues in America” trains a group of about 20 girls aged 7 to 14 in front of a wall-length mirror at The Edge School of the Arts on Merrick Boulevard.
“One, two, three, one two three, lift the other leg right away, and place it, don’t drag it, place it right away, that’s it,” she instructs them with her stern voice.
The girls patiently repeat the steps, hoping to score a compliment from the madame.
“We are ecstatic to have Madame Darvash here,” said Kerri Edge, the school's founder and artistic director who was Darvash’s student years ago.
"More importantly, I just want [my students] to understand the discipline and intensity of a true ballet class."
Darvash and Edge reconnected last year at a dance performance in Brooklyn.
“We both were happy to see each other after such a long time,” Darvash said. “Right away she expressed her hope that I could start working with her children."
"She told me that she finally has a group of talented students that she would like to be trained by me in the next summer intense."
Edge invited Darvash to her students’ performance in February at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center called “4 Little Girls,” inspired by the story of four African American girls who were killed in 1963 at the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Ala.
Darvash said she “fell in love in with the children’s talent.”
“Their performance made a big impression on me by their dancing that emanated honesty, dedication and musicality,” she said. “They definitely inspired me.”
Darvash, who trained at the Kirov Ballet in the former Soviet Union and was later artistic director at the State Opera Ballet in Cluj, Romania, for 14 years, agreed to teach at the school for a month.
But it’s the first time Darvash is teaching children.
“I’m not sure whether the classes that I planned for them made them always happy because my system sometimes was boring,” Darvash said bluntly.
“But I’m very pleased that in the end, when I asked, they could answer my questions related to music and style of the discipline I was supposed to teach them.”
Darvash believes that dancers, in order to master the necessary skills, should understand their bodies first and later use them as an "instrument of their expression," she said.
One of her students, Sadiyah Stephens, 13, of Rochdale Village, said the classes helped her correct her weak spots.
“I’m learning basically a lot techniques so I can build up the body and structure and become a better ballet dancer,” said Sadiyah, who started dancing when she was 6.
“One of the main things that I’m going to remember is posture because we can use that everywhere — it’s going to be there with me all the time."
Edge said that most of her students are trained locally.
“We always try to bring Manhattan to Jamaica, Queens,” she said, adding that several of her teachers trained under Darvash in the past.
“But this time we have the number one Manhattan teacher in Queens.”