Photos by Katie Ging
It almost seems like a chapter out of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, except that it’s the contemporary version (sorry, West Side Story) where two teenagers fall in love at a ballet school, have a career, open their own school and settle down to raise a family.
And unlike the Verona tale, this one has a happy ending.
The couple in question is Lindsay and Steven Piper, owners of Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh. Steven studied at School of Washington Ballet, Mary Day’s well-respected school that boasts alumnae like American Ballet Theatre’s Kevin McKenzie and Amanda McKerrow, actress Shirley Maclaine and Chelsea Clinton, and Maryland Youth Ballet, Cynthia Fonseca’s well-known school that spawned ABT’s Susan Jaffe, Julie Kent and son Peter Fonseca, among others.
She, then Lindsay LaFrankie, was a homegrown Pittsburgh dancer. Dancing along separate paths, they both decided to try the newly-formed Kirov Academy in Maryland. Steven says it was virtually love at first sight and soon they both found themselves in Pittsburgh. Says Lindsay, “There was something about him…I always knew.”
She wound up at PBT, he at PBT and Nashville Ballet. And when their careers had finished, they both turned to teaching…and school. The couple both completed their degrees in 2002.
Steven satisfied a long-time interest in history with a B.A. in History and Philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh (and is now nearing completion of a masters degree in historical preservation from West Virginia University). Lindsay, as it turned out, had a head for numbers and received a B.A. in Management from Chatham College.
Typical of dancers, they balance each other in life. “It would have been difficult to do this alone,” says Steven. “We have each other to talk about problems.”
And to run the Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh, which they founded in 2006 in Bethel Park. So she teaches ballet and pointe, of course, and he ballet, variations and male technique. Steven particularly cites Mansur Kamaledinov, a fixture on the local ballet scene for years, and a great influence.
Formerly of the Bolshoi Ballet, Mansur settled in Pittsburgh. Steven took many classes, some private with the ballet master. “He was a direct link to Vaganova,” he explains. “We would always do variations after class and the students could all turn like tops.”
It shows in their annual recital, which this year featured selections from “Swan Lake,” which obviously drew from their classical experiences as professionals.
The couple have applied all of their knowledge to teaching the students there and delight in watching their progression. Lindsay handles the bookkeeping and Steven the studio management — scheduling, working with people and the like.
But they sometimes cross reference their roles. They would have to as parents to Kyra, Ava, Stella and Griffin, ranging from age 10 to several months. Just coordinating the family scheduling — Kyra and Ava do swimming and Girl Scouts, but “just want to do ballet” — involves Lindsay’s parents, who only live a mile away. Somehow the Pipers managed to create a calendar where the couple both teach only one day a week. They’re able to have shifts the rest of the time.
But they’re more than parents. Steven says Lindsay “has a way about her — it just keeps on an even keel. She keeps me going.” His wife adds, “He’s the best dad — loving, caring, patient. And it’s a good thing he has three daughters.” (He knows how to work with a predominantly female clientele at BAP.)
It’s a great story, but it seems to run in the family — Lindsay’s parents were high school sweethearts as well. And together these “best friends” are ready to watch BAP grow, to “keep challenging the kids” and “just be happy.”
Maybe Romeo and Juliet could have benefitted from this approach.