On the second floor of the building located at 3433 W. Diversey Ave., the silhouette of a ballerina is etched out on a door. Walk inside and you will enter the Chicago Ballet Center, where Director Paul Abrahamson is busy with renovation projects. On this particular day, the bathrooms will get a new paint job and updated showers; other projects include improvements to the lounge and kitchen area, dressing rooms, and the floor and mirrors.
As his student base grows and the center’s visibility increases, Abrahamson recognizes a need to make the space as comfortable, beautiful and usable as possible. But his plans for the center don’t end there. His infectious passion for dance extends to the overall arts culture of Logan Square.
New Style of Ballet Classes Available
Abrahamson’s ballet career began right here in Illinois, but he has performed at the Royal Academy of Dance in London, the Joffrey Ballet, Radio City Music Hall and the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater. His experiences in Pittsburgh transformed his approach to dance, which is where he learned Cuban ballet style. He continued to study, teach and perform in this style, both in the United States and in Havana Cuba.
Cuban ballet, which focuses on economical movements and using bodily momentum to create streamlined motion, shapes both child and adult classes at the Chicago Ballet Center. The Cuban style’s focus on developing full body awareness is particularly beneficial for young children beginning ballet.
Rather than teaching muscle movements that children are not prepared to make, he focuses on age-appropriate techniques, such as skipping, jumping and sliding, to promote coordination. Abrahamson admits some parents are initially skeptical of this approach, which is unlike more traditional ballet programs, but the results speak for themselves.
The Chicago Ballet Center offers beginner and intermediate classes to adults. Abrahamson recommends these classes to “anyone who can walk down the street” and has an interest in ballet. Currently, students range from people with no dance background whatsoever to a dedicated group of advanced dancers enrolled in adult pointe classes.
The variety of classes can accommodate the dense, artistically minded population of Logan Square that, up until the opening of the Chicago Ballet Center, had almost no opportunity to study ballet in the neighborhood.
Although Abrahamson hopes to train students to become elite dancers, he finds it just as important to make ballet fun. “It’s all about the creative mind,” he says. “Our technique is very advanced, but I enjoy getting a little silly.”
Not Stopping With Ballet
His approach to creativity is not limited to ballet. As the former President of the Logan Square Chamber of Arts from 2009 to 2012, Abrahamson is dedicated to facilitating and expanding the neighborhood’s vibrant arts culture. His goals include growing the Chicago Ballet Center into “Logan Square Dance” by expanding the physical space and the types of classes offered. He hopes this dance center would offer a variety of dance classes, such as tap, flamenco and jazz. It might also provide an opportunity for other artists to host a seminar series highlighting their particular creative forms.
Added to the unique offerings of the Hairpin Arts Center (@HairpinArts, 2800 N. Milwaukee Ave.) and the newly renovated Logan Theater (@TheLoganTheatre, 2646 N. Milwaukee Ave.), Abrahamson says he is optimistic about the center’s prospects and the future of the arts in the neighborhood.
“Logan Square will keep its art-centric, creative identity, not at the expense of economic development,” he says. “We are nowhere near our creative capacity.”
Registration for fall classes at the Chicago Ballet Center will be open through the first week of October. The courses run for 11 weeks, but drop-in rates also are available for both child and adult classes. The center will host a performance of The Nutcracker Suite on December 15, with each class performing a particular section. For more information or to register for classes, visit the Chicago Ballet Center’s website.
Photo: Paul Abrahamson