Twenty years ago, the Margaret Haddad Studio of Classical Ballet opened in the Great Falls Village Center with just three enrolled students. It was a monumental change for Margaret Haddad, an experienced ballet instructor coming from a school in Kenya, Africa where she taught more than 500 international students. In the year prior to opening her Great Falls location, Haddad traveled between Kenya and Virginia every six weeks in order to negotiate the lease and set up her new business — a business that its Village Center property owner predicted “wouldn’t last a month.”
“They must have thought I was crazy going back and forth to and from Africa like that, and they thought I would never last, but I assured them that I knew what I was doing, that I had done this in three other countries, and that I had a long list of beautiful children who had been my students,” said Haddad, who is originally from England. “And now it’s 20 years later, and we’re still here. I think I’ve proven myself.”
IRONICALLY, the first student to register at Haddad’s Studio of Classical Ballet was Katie Murphy — the 3-year-old granddaughter of the same Village Center property owner who prophesied a bleak future for Haddad’s new school. Today, Haddad has 93 students enrolled in her thriving Studio of Classical Ballet, and Murphy is a 22-year-old aspiring Broadway actress whose 3-year-old daughter Mollie Murphy is currently enrolled in Haddad’s Mother Goose beginning ballet classes. In addition, Katie Murphy’s two younger sisters, Emily Pleasant, 8, and Samantha Pleasant, 11, are also students at the school.
“That’s what’s so great about this place,” said Patty Pleasant, mother of Katie, Emily and Samantha. “It’s a family tradition, and it’s so wonderful to see all the little children grow up, go through different stages and move on.”
Haddad makes a point of teaching her girls how to be supportive of one another.
“The girls stay at the school because they really get a sense of camaraderie with one another,” said Haddad. “I teach them to watch out for each other and I don’t allow jealousies or competition.”
To further foster this positive learning environment, Haddad runs a student teacher training program for her older students. Haddad personally selects those whom she deems qualified for the program, and then provides them with regularly scheduled, weekly teaching opportunities in classes with younger students. Patty Pleasant said she has watched this system operate with incredible success over the years — her daughter being the first real life example of its benefits.
“During Katie’s last years here, there was truly a bond between her and the other girls because she had really grown into this older girl that all the younger students knew and admired,” said Pleasant. “The little girls look up to the big girls and aspire to be like them, and it’s so great to watch them be there for one another. It’s a very supportive, nurturing and loving environment.”
AS PART of her dance curriculum, Haddad offers all of her students the opportunity to participate in the official Russian Ballet Society certification examinations. A member of the Russian Ballet Society comes to Haddad’s studio every other year to observe and score the students, and those students who pass receive an official Russian Ballet Society certification at the Haddad Studio of Classical Ballet end-of-season performance.
For this year’s final performance, Haddad chose to do a medley of ballet scenes rather than one particular show, because it had been a Russian Ballet Society certification exam year for her students.
“We had excellent results for the exams, and the girls had worked really, really hard for it,” said Haddad.
Since the vast majority of her students chose to participate in the examinations, and had only recently finished the rigorous examination process, Haddad thought it might be easier for them to prepare for a season finale performance that was made up of dance routines familiar to them.
On Saturday, May 12, the Margaret Haddad Studio of Classical Ballet will present its 20th end-of-season show, “A Bouquet of Ballet,” at The Madeira School in McLean. Haddad’s 93 students will perform excerpts from numerous ballets put on by the school in the past, including scenes from “Alice in Wonderland,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Noir et Blanc,” “William Tell” and others.
The show will feature a colorful array of costumes, many of which were created and sewn by Haddad’s long-time costume designer and student mother, Hope Reynolds. Reynolds said she has sewn too many costumes to count for this particular show, but does not mind the hard work.
“What’s so cool about this place is that it’s like a huge family,” she said. “Everybody knows everybody’s name.”
Samantha Pleasant said she likes “everything” about being a member of the Margaret Haddad Studio of Classical Ballet. The 11-year-old will play the role of a bell, a card, the wind and a jewel in the upcoming “Bouquet of Ballet,” and says she is not intimidated by the audience nor her numerous costume changes.
“I like being on stage,” said Samantha, adding that the costume changes are “fast but fun.”