Friday, July 6, 2012

Mom in the Spotlight: Jenna Lavin-Crabtree

Jenna as Sugarplum
Photo: Nan Melville

Jenna Lavin-Crabtree is originally from Queens, New York.  She began her ballet training with Mme. Gabriela Darvash and Jody Fugate.  She later graduated from the School of American Ballet where she studied with such teachers as Alexandria Danilova, Antonia Tumkovsky and Stanley Williams.  Ms. Lavin began her professional dance career at 17 when she was invited to join the Chicago City Ballet, under the direction of Maria Tallchief.  Ms. Lavin also danced with the Atlanta Ballet directed by Robert Barnett, for seven years.  Her principal and soloist roles with the Atlanta Ballet include: Balanchine’s Prodigal Son, The Four Temperaments, Serenade, Tarantella Pas de Deux, Minkus Pas a Trois as well as Le Corsaire Pas de Deux, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.

As a principal dancer with the Nashville Ballet, Ms. Lavin danced Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, the title role in Giselle, and other principal roles in the company’s contemporary repertoire.  
Other professional affiliations include the Los Angeles Ballet, under the direction of John Clifford. 
Ms. Lavin spent eight summers as a member of the Chautauqua Ballet Company, under the direction of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux where she performed principal roles in ballets by Balanchine, Bonnefoux and Clifford. She is also a former soloist with Edward Villella’s Miami City Ballet where she danced principal roles in many ballets including Divertimento #15, Jewels, Pas de Dix, Raymonda Variations, Valse Fantaises, Western Symphony, Glinka Pas a Trois, The Nutcracker and Who Cares?

Ms. Lavin has worked with numerous choreographers, creating principal roles in ballets by Alonzo King, Lisa de Ribere and Stanton Welch to name a few. In the summer of 2003 Ms. Lavin performed in Casablanca, a collaboration between Warner Brothers and John Clifford’s Los Angeles Dance Theater. 

Ms. Lavin has been teaching ballet to young dancers throughout her career beginning in Chicago when she was 17.  She has taught master classes in Atlanta, Michigan and for the Nashville Ballet School. 

Ms. Lavin has been on faculty at Ballet Academy East in NYC since 2003 where she teaches and choreographs for the Graded Level. 

She is married to Cornel Crabtree and they are the proud parents of three boys:  Sky who is 7,  Grayson, who is 3, and Cooper, born April 2012.

Where were you in your career when each of your children was born?  Were you still performing?  
When I became pregnant with Sky I was still performing and had just started teaching at Ballet Academy East here NYC. Cornel and I were dancing with a small pick-up troupe and had just finished a weekend of performances at NYC's Joyce Theatre. I was more exhausted than usual before realizing, yup, we were pregnant. Surprise!

I didn't perform again after I had Sky. I wanted to just be a mom and had already put in 18 years on stage, so I was ready to move on!  When Grayson was born I was fully immersed in my teaching and my new found love for choreographing at BAE.  With Cooper I taught a bit when he turned 8 weeks and have been slowly getting back into the studio again.

I know for myself, finding time to plan classes can be extremely difficult!  Has motherhood changed class preparation changed for you?
Oh yes, motherhood has changed my class preparation for sure! I'm incredibly blessed though, in that it is such a pleasure to be on Faculty at BAE. Darla Hoover, who is a mentor of sorts for me runs the Graded Level Program where the students are extremely serious about their dance education.

We have a set syllabus for the first 5 levels. The higher levels I can give anything I want them to work on that day. Depending on which levels I have on any given day I can "plug into" the syllabus and just go in there and get to work. I love that the focus is on the kids I'm teaching and not myself. I love helping them and seeing them develop.

In many ways, motherhood is as challenging, and as soul fulfilling, as dancing.  Agree or disagree? 
That's a hard one to answer! Performing is so completely amazing and soul fulfilling and also so completely selfish. Your whole day is centered around yourself  (as it should be to produce the best performance).

Motherhood is, well. . .the complete opposite. Cornel and I are older parents too, so we literally spend every second we can with our kids. What makes the whole motherhood thing so fulfilling is the little moments.  The 3 boys really do bring laughter and joy to us every day.

In terms of judgment, dancers are always hard on their bodies.  While motherhood may make us somewhat forgiving, the standards are still there.  How has your body perception evolved?  How do you keep in shape these days?  

With just having Cooper 11 weeks ago I've been trying to find the time to walk 2-3 times a week. It doesn't always happen though. Hard to find the time with 3 kids. And hard to find the energy! 

Your husband was a professional ballet dancer as well.  Some dancers almost insist that their children dance, while others want their children to do nothing of the kind.  Where do you fall on this continuum? 
Cornel and I discussed this before we even had kids!  We both feel the discipline is fantastic and that ballet builds confidence and a strong body in kids. That being said, like the rest of the fine arts, ballet is such a challenging profession, that if a child doesn't really want to dance, then there is no reason to push them in that direction. 

Sky will be entering Level 1 in the Fall at BAE. He is very excited about this. The moment he is not excited about ballet it's done. Grayson loves to dance and loves music so it appears to be in the bloodline, but only time will tell! 

Even though I lived in the Big Apple for most of my life, and am currently raising children in Chicago, I marvel at folks raising children in New York City. Do you ever fantasize about moving to the suburbs or to a more manageable city?  
I have to admit I do fantasize at times about having a house and a big yard and tons of closet space and a garage. . .but look, I'm a New Yorker through and through. Our neighborhood has great schools and tons of green spaces.  Also, I'm within minutes of all kinds of great, kid-friendly NYC destinations.  

Has being a parent changed your approach to teaching? 
Parenting has changed my teaching style immensely. I'm so much more patient now. I know what a hard road the ballet kids have in front of them. I applaud them for going a full day at school and ballet and getting their homework done before 2 a.m. I have great respect for them.

Teaching for me has become a time in the day when I can fully focus on the task at hand -- helping my students become better dancers. It's satisfying to see results so quickly.

At home raising children is a much slower process.  I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I've always loved being in the studio. I'm very grateful that now as a mom I can still tap into that part of myself and enjoy it so much. 

Describe your mothering style in five words or less.
Mothering style....Feed them love, always. 

Advice for moms in dance?
Advice for moms in dance?  Things shift greatly when you become a parent. You don't have the same amount of energy or focus dedicated to just you and the art form. Embrace this. Take it one day at a time. Or rather, take it one moment at a time. It all goes so quickly - I always remind myself of that. 


  1. Beautiful interview about one of my favorite friends and ballerinas by my best friend. What could be more exciting or interesting? Jenna is an inspiration and I have been lucky enough to watch the fruits (students) of her labors develop and bloom into incredibly gifted dancers.

    1. Awww, Lady T! I wish I knew Jenna better. She is obviously an extraordinary talented performer and teacher, as well as a devoted and insightful parent. I am honored to have been able to feature her on MNS!

  2. Thanks so much for this wonderful insight into the dance world. I'm completely unfamiliar with it and it seems very exciting. I'm so glad to see you have such a healthy approach to dance as it relates to your children -- letting them choose to pursue it if they want or leave it alone if that's their decision. Letting children decide who they want to be is the best practice for all parents.


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