Basil Teaches Ballet Boot Camp

Las Vegas Sun
Homegrown: Toni Basil
By Kristen Peterson
Friday, Aug. 21, 2009 | 2 a.m

Toni Basil is getting funky to a James Brown song in the Nevada Ballet Theatre studio. Her hair, artfully mussed, caps off the stylish and somewhat moneyed look of successful choreographer who has aged very little since her MTV days.

She demonstrates dance steps to a group of about 20 timid dancers, and they follow suit – little bodies moving cautiously.

“Make it funky,” Basil tells them. “Make it look good. I want it sassy. You learn street from the inside out. Krumping has a little anger.”

They try their best sassy, but are far from tapping into street rage. Not in this hour, anyway. Maybe they’ll take it with them. Artists keep advice with them for years, whether it’s profound or unbelievably simple.

“Hear the beat,” she tells them. “Always keep in the groove.”

This is Nevada Ballet Theatre Academy’s Summer Intensive Program, a title that vastly understates itself. Students attend 25 classes each week for three weeks. They focus on repertoire, modern dance, Pilates and ballet history. They absorb new knowledge. What they know is further drilled in. Most of them are students in the academy’s regular season. Others have come from out of town for what is fondly referred to at the company as “Ballet Boot Camp.”

Some aspire to a professional career in dance. Two of the company’s dancers, Cameron Findlay and Rebecca Brimhall, started out in the academy, and James Canfield, the new artistic director, would like to see more academy students train to become company dancers.

Anna Lantz, academy principal, says the summer intensive program is for students who are seriously pursuing dance and wanting excellent education and training.

“The classical ballet training coupled with other complementary and diverse dance forms is so wonderful for our students, as well as those coming form other states, especially when taught by an amazing and world-renowned faculty.”

Basil, an award-winning choreographer, is teaching them styles of street dance – electric boogaloo, krump and locking – and translating ballet moves into hip-hop. She is writing a book on the history of American street dance and lectures frequently on the topic.

She has worked with David Byrne, David Bowie and Tina Turner and choreographs “Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go On” at Caesars Palace. On this day she’s volunteering her time and knowledge with ballet students ages 11 to 18 – too young to remember the hit “Mickey,” but old enough to know her from “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Nevada Ballet established the relationship with Basil when it named Bette Midler the company’s 2009 Woman of the Year.

It sort of completes a circle for the choreographer who is a former Las Vegas resident and wore a Las Vegas High cheerleading outfit for her chart-topping 1982 hit “Mickey,” an early MTV favorite. She now lives in Los Angeles, but says she likes to work with Las Vegas students, especially those at the Las Vegas Academy (formerly Las Vegas High).

“I just love doing it so much,” she says. “I love street and I love ballet and I love to convey what I can.”

She turns to the ballet academy students and tells them to hear the beat, to keep it funky and that each dance is a “lifetime” and that street is ever-changing.

“Obviously, you’re studying ballet,” she tells them. “But as you know, Twyla Tharp brought a lot of street to ballet.”

The students have this to consider as they meander over to their character dance class.

But first, autographs.

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