Dancing across the world

Published 3:19 pm Thursday, July 15, 2010

To some performers from Pelham’s Stevan Grebel Center for Dance, a trip to the other side of the world might seem like the perfect chance to strengthen their dancing skills while learning about a new culture.

But when 10 Grebel Dance students departed Alabama on their way to Novi Sad, Serbia, on July 11, they were also serving as international ambassadors while they learned about the hometown of one of the dance center’s owners.

“The students from Serbia are happy to discover that the old stereotypes of ‘Americans’ are not true,” said Grebel Dance Executive Director Deborah Grebel, whose husband, Stevan, is a Serbia native and director of the dance center.

“The exchange of culture between the students has been one of the greatest parts of this workshop,” Grebel added. “The people are very thoughtful in Serbia, and very nice.”

The Grebels, along with Pelham resident Ashley Murray and other dance students from Hoover, McCalla, Bessemer, Italy, Belgrade and Serbia, will be in Serbia until July 28.

While there, the students will attend the third-annual Grebel International Ballet Intensive Workshop in Novi Sad, where they will take classes in ballet, modern dance, jazz and gyrokinesis, which is similar to pilates, Grebel said.

All classes at the international workshop will be taught by Stevan Grebel and other teachers from Serbia, Belgrade, Russia and Germany.

Because the Alabama students will be studying with their counterparts in other countries, it will allow them to learn about other cultures and begin lasting friendships, Grebel said.

“The teachers not only teach dance, but dance interjected with thoughtfulness, mental and social development and a wider view of the world,” Grebel said. “(The students) have all developed lasting friendships that they will stay connected to for the rest of their lives.

“All of the students have been wonderful ambassadors for their countries,” Grebel added. “I have watched the students for only two days here, and I already see ‘light bulbs going off’ and connections being made in their dance study.”

Each year, Grebel Dance also awards scholarships to Serbian students to attend the workshop.

Because the worldwide economy has been in a slump recently, the scholarships allow students to attend the workshop who may not otherwise be able to afford it, Grebel said.

“The scholarships for the Serbian dance students are by invitation. Usually, if they attend one year, we invite them back for the next as a guest,” Grebel said. “Their economy is such that they cannot really afford to pay much for dance classes.

“They are usually in a selected school or theatre in their town,” Grebel added.

This year, the Pelham-based Alabama Youth Ballet Company also awarded scholarships to students in the Pelham area. The local scholarships were funded by donations from several residents and businesses in Pelham and Hoover.

“We also have students requesting scholarships from other areas besides our town, as well as countries in Europe,” Grebel said. “They have found us on the Internet in Europe, which puts Pelham on the worldwide map.

“We are delighted to see that we can make a difference in all of these young peoples’ lives,” Grebel added.