Jo Anna Kneeland and the Spark That Illuminated Ballet in the US

A desire to help aspiring ballet students with physical challenges turned out to be something more significant for the accomplished dancer, dance teacher, and choreographer Jo Anna Kneeland. Faced with a growing clientele of children who wanted to experience ballet despite having bowed legs or weak spines, she was persuaded to find a solution for them and their hopeful parents by adapting ballet positions to their body types.

Her experimentation reached a higher level when she pored over reel after reel of film that showed dancers executing their movements. She found a correlation between the force and energy applied to complete the movement and its execution. A mind and body connection could influence the shape of a dancer’s body. It could even enable a student with scoliosis to overcome the condition and continue to dance.

A New Way to Teach Dancing

Jo Anna Kneeland was fortunate to draw around her dance teachers who saw the emergence of her new dance philosophy and were convinced that it could revolutionize the ballet and dance training methods that have doggedly remained in place since the 1700s. One of these was Ruth C. Petrinovic who opened Imperial Studios in Fort Lauderdale after seeing for herself what Jo Anna’s techniques could do. She became an avid disciple and partner of Jo Anna. Their collaboration would soon form the foundation of the Revolutionary Principles of Movement (RPM).

Changing the World of Dance

Ballet dance rules and rigid training regimens have been around for so long that they have become the norm despite the possibility of injury when the human body is stretched to its limits. The reason why the RPM is revolutionary is that it allows the body to acclimatize to the changes taking place in the muscles and joints without forcing anything. Instead, the focus is on the proper use and orientation of the energy stored in the body as applied to movement. As a result, the RPM largely avoids injuries that can be detrimental to a dance student’s career.   

by Cheryl Ale

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One response to “Jo Anna Kneeland and the Spark That Illuminated Ballet in the US”

  1. This book was on my recommended reading list when I taught a university ballet pedagogy course in 2019. My undergraduate and graduate students were interested in where the teachings I was sharing with them had originated (most of which they had never heard), which meant they needed to know who Joanna Kneeland, Ruth Petrinovic, Maria Vegh, and others were. They also needed to see how slow motion video analysis had prompted important discoveries about the preparations that happen beneath the surface the moment before spectacular movements happen. Cheryl Ale’s book, The Spark, is an important document in preserving that story.


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