A Joy in Movement

Photo by Chris Mortenson

Jennifer Cheng passes along her love of dance
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Dance has always been a big part of Jennifer Cheng’s life. 

She was training to be a professional dancer when college came calling in the late 1970s. Her parents persuaded her to study law, so she put the art form on the back burner. 

When she retired from her successful law career, she pirouetted right back onto the dance floor. In 2010, artistic director Cheng founded Dance Conservatory of Pasadena to inspire, train and nurture creative endeavors with a focus on ballet.

Cheng says ballet was the logical move for her. 

“Ballet is obviously an artistic expression, which is important for the development of young kids,” she says. “It’s important to teach the discipline, too. 

“It’s a discipline that helps kids focus. They understand that working hard and listening to their instructors are big parts of it. There’s a joy in movement.”

For 10 years, the Dance Conservatory of Pasadena has challenged students to create work that’s important to the community with three programs — Miss Caroline’s Children’s Division, a comprehensive pre-professional ballet program and an ongoing adult-focused movement program.

Annually, Cheng, the teachers and students work toward performances of “Sleeping Beauty” or “The Nutcracker.”

“They create a full performance of ‘The Nutcracker’ in December,” she says. “We didn’t water it down. They do a full-on one that you would see featuring the ballet and American Ballet Theater or the Bolshoi Ballet. It was a great experience.”

Cheng’s instructors include Sasha Greschenko, a former soloist with the Bolshoi Ballet. He has been with the Dance Conservatory of Pasadena for about six years and teaches contemporary ballet and contemporary ballet choreography.

The newest addition to the staff is Mia Hjelte, a former soloist of the Royal Swedish Ballet (2006 to 2017) and artistic director of the touring dance company Stockholm 59North.

“She retired from the Royal Swedish Ballet and came to the United States,” Cheng says. “She’s been teaching ballet and doing her own projects related to dance. She is teaching ballet classes and, because of her experience in classical ballet, she’s a great resource to teach my kids a different perspective other than Russian. 

“She has tremendous technique and a great ability to instruct. She’s very well liked by a lot of her students and parents.”

Like other dance studios and arts organizations, the Dance Conservatory of Pasadena was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The conservatory is hoping to produce “The Nutcracker” in-house, without the use of a community theater. 

“We’re hoping that Caroline (Broes) can put on a little ‘Nutcracker’ — maybe with just excerpts — with full costumes and makeup in the studio,” Cheng says. “We lost students, unfortunately, and we’re waiting for them to come back.”

For Cheng, the Dance Conservatory of Pasadena is a passion project. 

“We’ve really built it up,” she says. “We were doing really, really, really well and getting a lot of students. We were on our way to breaking even and succeeding. I was very proud of it. This is something I had done when I was growing up, and I wanted to pass it on.”

Dance Conservatory of Pasadena

66 Waverly Drive, Pasadena

626-396-1744, dancepasadena.com

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