Q&A Luis Mestas

A high art, ballet is defined as: “A classical dance form demanding grace and precision and employing formalized steps and gestures set in intricate, flowing patterns to create expression through movement.” Luis Mestas, 55, now of Hoquiam and formerly of Los Angeles, established the Lighthouse Ballet Academy in September of 2010. Last weekend the Academy presented the second performance of Tchaikovsky’s traditional holiday ballet of “The Nutcracker” at Hoquiam’s 7th St. Theatre, an ambitious undertaking for a fledgling company. Mestas would like to see ballet and the classical arts take a solid foothold in the local community.

How did you choose the name Lighthouse Ballet Academy?

I needed to have the name that would represent what would go on in the academy. Students learn not only classical ballet technique, but also something very important about character development. Many dancers learn steps and techniques that make them skillful and able to perform. However, as I have experienced with my own training as a dancer and instructor, most great dancers share a unique training of the mind. This is very important in my instruction. A dancer must feel so confident about him/herself. Always. This is how I was when I performed at my best. It was the time and absolute care of certain maestros I had that added that necessary component during my education as a dancer. At the Lighthouse Ballet Academy, my students are often rewarded with praise for executing the proper steps. They also receive feedback of what they are not doing right, in a constructive, critical, yet firm manner. They are challenged continually to go beyond their level of comfort whether it is just balancing, holding a position, or moving. I spend time bringing examples about life, often times they hear about fables and how they can apply certain principles into their dancing and their personal life. My aim is for them to find the resources in the academy to grow as a complete human being. The name of Lighthouse appealed to me because it is just that. Anyone that comes will feel a sense of this. The name of the Lighthouse is bigger than my own name indeed. I have found it to be just a vessel, a facilitator who delivers something beyond my name.

How long have you lived in Hoquiam?

Last year since September. when I opened up the academy. Before that I lived in Ocean City for about a year, but came from LA, originally.

How did you come to be located in Hoquiam?

It is a long story that had to do trying to pick up the pieces that were left after the loss of several real estate properties I had, and a mismanaged rental resort while I was still in LA. At the end of it all, an empty gas tank became the factor to remain here. I taught in west LA. at the Marat Daukayev school. In the heart of Beverly Hills I had a real estate license which became handy when some celebrity had a real estate need; I would connect them with an associate to do the follow up. Before, one of my choices was Hoquiam, then it became the only alternative … now, I see why. It has to do with the purpose in life that God had for me. I am sure.

What is your performing background in ballet?

I had the opportunity to take training from wonderful instructors. One of them was Maestro Stephan Mucsi, who was the ballet master of the opera of Budapest. He was in LA, there was no need for me to go anywhere else. His lessons were so intense, passionate, and delivered with all the explanations I needed to understand what I was doing. Under him I danced principal roles of different classical ballets. I also had the opportunity to dance in St. Petersburg, Russia, under maestro Viktor Korolkov. I was trained at the Tallinn Ballet Academy in Estonia, and in the Opera of Riga in Latvia with Aivars Leimanis. One of my highlights was when I was asked to dance the Grand Pax de Deux of the “Graduation Ball” by Madame Lechine, the last performance before she passed away.

What is your background in teaching ballet?

Privately, and at the Marat Daukayev School of Ballet in LA. I have choreographed for several years.

What initially drew you to study ballet?

I always wanted to have powerful legs. I began with soccer, martial arts … but it was not enough until I saw the male dancers in a performance of “Giselle.” I was very impressed not only for their strength, but also for their ability to control their entire body, expressing such incredible themes through their movements, the music, lights, the props … everything put together captivated me. Later I discovered that this was, may I say, “no monkey business,” but it had so much to do with controlling the body, flexibility, coordination, remembering steps, lots of stamina, acrobatics, learning French … these and much more with a smile on your face while enchanting the audience and adding beauty and inspiration with real life themes or fairy tales.

What age ranges do you teach?

From 3 years old to adults.

Is there an advantage to starting at a young age?

Willing to try anything and express themselves with no reservation, children are often times more coachable. They can work with their skeletal system (turn out from the hip), increase the range of motion and flexibility. However, there are adults who are surprised to see that they possess the qualities of a dancer: long Achilles tendons and muscles, turn out, musicality, expression. While younger students learn naturally by trial and error, older students learn more cognitively. This might be advantageous for older students. So it is very possible for an adult student to learn ballet.

What benefits does a person receive from learning ballet?

Discipline, awareness of patterns, memorization, grace, coordination, flexibility, focus, strength, absolute top body shape aesthetically, personal challenge, great friends who are disciplined and focused. Develop character, self-esteem and respect for the art and the body, learn French, improve math scores and reading, learn about other cultures, have a chance to be a star and ride a limo … want more?

What draws a student to learn ballet?

At first curiosity, costumes, the music, friends, pride, mom. Eventually those who stay are drawn to the structure, the ability to control and express one’s self through movement, a sense of belonging, health, challenge, discipline and freedom, results, personal commitment, awareness of aesthetics, deep respect for the art, and humility as one becomes aware of how big this is.

How many students do you currently have enrolled?

I have about 35 students, seven boys.

What level of commitment do you require from your students?

There are different levels of commitment depending on what the parents allow their children to have. If they are performing, then I do require that they come for class and practice. I have been seeing much commitment on their part as they want to stay more in class and at times I see them sobbing because class is over.

Students from the Academy recently performed in “The Nutcracker”. As a teacher, how do you feel they did?

I think we did fine considering that this is only our second performance and only a handful of students have been with the academy for a little over a year. We are still a young academy but I feel people enjoyed it.

Why did you choose to have them perform “The Nutcracker”?

The 7th St. Theatre is so wonderful, and the community deserves to see a tradition that accompanies Christmas time. I want to provide this need with passionate and skilled dancers from our own community. I want to make a difference in the life of a child in this area and one day the difference will be made in our neighborhood.

Are you finding an interest in ballet in this rugged timber and fishing area?

I can see how I have to break the ice in some circles of our community, as they may think it is just a small recital, or just pretty kids jumping. But the truth is that I am committed to make a positive contribution to this wonderful community. For some reason I am here and feel that this is my destiny. Perhaps next time we will have more folks enjoy our work. When I was in West LA, my friends attempted to discourage me and said that I would see more deer than people … but as I see what has developed in just one year I realize that there is something to be done here. Some folks think of ballet as not very athletic, that it is only for little girls, but I would invite them for a moment to visit our academy. As a matter of fact, we have in the adult class some fathers joining with their wives and we also have a student who regularly comes to class who was our Mouse King for our four performances last week who is 6’10”.

What are your dreams for the future of the academy in Hoquiam?

Create an academy of true classical ballet and a company with excellent dancers and artists that our community will be proud of, who will possess strong moral values and virtues that through their performing abilities may contribute to the development and well being of our community as they will inspire younger generations with their performances and personal daily example. A performing arts academy with the strong foundation of classical ballet will be the basis for a performing arts and child care center, and works are on the way to include music, singing, acting and foreign languages.