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RACINE - Two former professional ballet dancers next week will open a ballet school where, they say, their professional training will set them apart.

"There didn't seem to be the type of school we wanted to provide anywhere in the area," said Linda Bennett, co-owner of the Studio of Classical Dance Arts. This week she and her ex-dancer husband, Marc Darling, are building their studio inside Westgate Square, near Shopko. Classes will begin Sept. 15.

The couple both danced full-time for years as professional ballet dancers until they retired in 1995. Bennett danced for six years with the Milwaukee Ballet. Darling, 42, began with Ballet Austin (Texas) in 1984 and finished his dancing career with six years at the Milwaukee Ballet.

All the dancers there, the couple explained, put in full eight-hour days working on their craft. As employees of the ballet company, they usually worked under one-year contracts. Darling compared the job to professional sports, "If you take away the really big dollars."

Both have been teaching ballet full-time - most recently at the Dance Arts Center in Franksville - since they retired from

dancing.

The Studio of Classical Dance Arts will primarily offer just ballet, at least at first. Bennett and Darling said they may add other types of dance eventually, but ballet will be the foundation, for good reason. "Ballet is the foundation of all other forms of dance," Bennett said.

The couple maintain their training will make a fundamental difference for students. "We bring more than 50 years of truly professional experience to the studio," Darling said. "My teachers taught in Chicago for over 40 years, and in the dance world they're legendary."

Bennett said being a dancer in a professional dance company is "very different than just learning how to dance."

Will that difference matter to young ballet students? "It starts to matter right away, surprisingly," Darling replied. Bad habits acquired early are nearly impossible to undo later, he said.

Their students will gradually be introduced to "character" dancing, the national dances of Europe such as Irish and the tarantella. As students graduate to higher levels of instruction, their program will expand to include training such as plastique, a stretching and strengthening regimen.

Eventually, Bennett said, the owners would like to add jazz and modern dance classes and perhaps even ballroom dancing. To dance ballet, "You have to be well-rounded," she said, "and ballet is absolutely the foundation."

"It's such a labor of love," she said. "We both have such a passion for the art form and for passing it on."

"We have been told we're fun teachers," Darling said. "Ballet has a stigma" of being stuffy and rigidly disciplined.

"There's a time for that," he said, "but we really like to have fun in class. I'm not sure how to dispel the ballet stuffiness (perception) except one student at a time."

Classes will be taught from 4 p.m. to about 9 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. For more information call (262) 633-4450.

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