Danish American Nationals Cultural Exchange
The first thing my fellow dancer and travel companion, Dammiel, and I noticed as
we stepped off the airplane into the Copenhagen airport, was the giant florescent sign that
read “Welcome to the World’s Happiest Nation”. At first, we chuckled a bit and believed
it to be an over-exaggerated advertisement. However within minutes we were proven
wrong. On our way to baggage claim, we were smiled at by multiple passersby and
warmly welcomed by the airport’s staff. We picked up our bags and hopped into a taxi.
The cabbie spoke perfect English. And after learning that we were new to Copenhagen,
he suggested sights and eateries we should visit. As Dammiel continued to talk with the
cabbie, I realized that I hadn’t heard any shouting or honking, not even tires screeching as
we came to a red light. Coming from New York City, that ride may have been the
smoothest I have ever taken in a cab! The pleasant conversation with the cab driver ended
at the hotel where we would stay the first night.
The Hotel Babette Guldsmeden is quaint and comfortable. We checked in, and were
shown to our European-sized hotel rooms. I immediately lay down on my bed and fell
asleep. Trying to become accustom to the time change, I awoke a couple hours later and
decided to take a walk and have dinner. Dammiel and I found our way to Nyhavn, where
we ate along the Christianshavns Kanal, which is lined with colorful houses and
restaurants. The food was fresh and delectable. Because the weather was 10 degrees,
Celsius that is, the restaurant provided us with cozy blankets to keep us warm as we sat
outside and enjoyed the Danish culture around us.
The following day, Dammiel and I walked to the dormitories located across the
street from the Det Kongelige Teater where the Royal Danish Ballet performs and where
we would spend the majority of our days taking classes. We met the dormitory ‘parents’
and the other exchange students from Joffrey Ballet School of Chicago and Pacific
Northwest Ballet. The dorms were well organized and especially clean and tidy. The head
of the dorms gave us a tour of their facilities and introduced us to the apprentices and
students of the Royal Danish Ballet School.
Our classes for the next two weeks included ballet technique, variations, acting
class, and Bournonville technique. Dammiel and I were nervous when we discovered that
our first class of the day was with the Royal Danish Ballet Company! But when we
arrived at the studio, several company members came over to say hello and introduce
themselves and we immediately felt at ease. The next two classes, variations and
technique, were taken with the apprentices. Currently a class of all girls, the energetic
Danish apprentices were fun to be around and beautiful to watch. Either instruction in
Bournonville technique or an acting class followed variations class.
Our teachers included Eva Draw, Adam Lüders, Mogens Boesen, Nikolaj Hubbe
from the Royal Danish Ballet and guest artist Florence Clerc from the Paris Opera Ballet.
I learned so much from each teacher. I received many helpful tips and corrections that I
still use in class at the School of American Ballet. Although all the classes were
challenging, Bournonville class was especially difficult due to my lack of knowledge of
the technique but in spite of this, I enjoyed watching the apprentices and learning
Bournonville variations from our teacher.
After each day of dance, we returned to the dorms where I iced my swollen feet
and got ready for dinner. Every evening all the dorm residents met in the dining room for
a meal served family style. The meals prepared by the chief were different every night
and always delicious. As we ate, Dammiel and I talked with the students about their days
at school, ballet classes, and their lives around the dorms. After dinner, we helped clear
the tables, wash dishes and listen to the Danish radio stations (which often played
American music)! For the first few days, we were too exhausted to go out after dinner,
but by the first Thursday, my roommate and I ventured to the famous pedestrian street,
Strøget. Its long stretch of stores and restaurants extends for over a kilometer. On our day
off, we ventured even a bit further to the King’s Gardens surrounding the Rosenborg Slot
castle, the 17th century spiraled ramp observatory known as the Round Tower, and of
course to the statue of the Little Mermaid. We often visited our favorite cafe, Café
Norden located close to the theater and dormitory, where we began to feel like locals!
The 2014 Danish American Nationals Cultural Exchange Scholarship was a dancer’s
dream come true for me. Two weeks with the Royal Danish Ballet in picture-perfect
Copenhagen broadened both my dance and personal perspective. What an enriching
experience to meet dancers from other countries and understand dance from a historical
point of view! I truly appreciate The Danish American Society making this opportunity.
Leah Terada & Dammiel Cruz