Michael Wardlaw, the new Pensacola director of Northwest Florida Ballet, is oozing with an unbridled enthusiasm as he walks with a confident swagger through the group’s makeshift studio located at 28½ S. Palafox Place.
In town for little less than a week, the instructor is still unpacking boxes from his move to Pensacola from Ohio.
“This is my dream,” he says, unfazed by the holes in the downtown studio’s ceiling, the ratted carpet and the metal practice bars propped up with tennis balls. “I’m so excited to have this opportunity to teach fulltime in such a beautiful area. I feel that teaching is all about giving a part of yourself and it rewards not only the student, but the teacher.”
While the five-foot-five phenom plans to cosmetically overhaul the downtown dance space, it’s his passion for ballet—and movement in general—that earned him the job and ultimately won over Northwest Florida Ballet’s artistic director, Todd Eric Allen.
“Michael demonstrated that he has an incredible energy, technical integrity and most important a vision for a thriving dance program for Pensacola,” Allen explains.
Armed with a paintbrush and over 16 years of professional dance experience, the senior soloist with the Cincinnati Ballet maps out his vision for the 3,000 square foot practice space.
This fall, he plans to teach a cavalcade of dance styles—everything from Latin to African to hip-hop and, of course, ballet. Wardlaw also envisions a study program that immerses students in cultural customs as well as movement.
“My focus is definitely on quality and not quantity,” he says about his recruiting efforts for the upcoming semester.
Wardlaw says TV shows like ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” and FOX’s “So You Think You Can Dance” have fueled a renewed interest in dance. However, the 32-year-old doesn’t want to lose sight of his roots.
“Today, most ballet companies are moving toward more contemporary dance styles,” he says. “While I am comfortable with this, I don’t want to lose sight of where we’ve come from. I think it’s important that we as teachers, and as a society, maintain our respect for the classics.”
The director is currently enrolling students at all ages and levels to begin study Monday, August 14. Wardlaw is also hosting an open house 12:30 p.m. Saturday, July 29 with free classes starting at 3 p.m.
Call 433-8484 or visit www.nfballet.org for details.