SANTA ANA : Barre Exam Keeps Class on Its Toes

She has performed at the White House and the London Coliseum, and has traveled the world with the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

But no audience could have been more attentive than the students who hung on prima ballerina Virginia Johnson’s every word and watched each motion with awe Monday at Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana.

“Mistakes are OK,” Johnson assured the 18 students who came from across Orange County to take a master ballet class from her. “It means you are trying to do something better.”

Johnson, who was in town to perform at the Orange County Performing Arts Center last weekend, led the class through some of the basics: a plie, a coupe, a pirouette, a promenade.


The familiar steps took on an added degree of difficulty under the master’s direction though, even for students who have been dancing since childhood.

“It’s hard,” Connie Doerksen, 29, of Orange, said. “You want to perform well, and you want to remember every word she says.”

Johnson moved quietly around the room, observing each dancer at the barre. She gently lifted drooping hands, steadied wobbly legs and realigned hips.

“That’s good,” she told the class. “But it needs to be juicier.”

Johnson, who has performed the leading roles in “Giselle” and “Swan Lake,” asked the students to focus on their own weaknesses in dance as they practiced. That concentration, she said later, will help them to move in an individualized way, not mechanically.

“It helps them to connect to themselves as dancers,” she said.

After the two-hour class, the dancers were flushed and tired but enthusiastic.

“It’s obvious what a craftswoman she is,” said Janet Ambruso, 29, of Orange. “She moves through space and time so beautifully.”

Said classmate Martha Jaramillo, 20, of Orange: “It’s a great opportunity for us to learn many new things. I really appreciate it.”