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At the age of 10, I had the shattering realization that I would never become a professional ballet dancer. My cane-wielding Russian ballet instructor advised me to concentrate on jazz because I wasn’t “built” for ballet. With eternally flat feet and limited turnout, I was better suited to preparing for Janet Jackson videos, she implied, than for sharing the stage with Baryshnikov. I was crushed. And by the time I discovered the joys of modern dance in high school, I had given up all hopes of ever becoming a professional dancer. Things might have worked out differently if there had been a pre-professional modern program for me to turn to. Luckily for today’s would-be ballerinas, the newly opened American Dance Institute (ADI) in Rockville offers students an alternative to stopping pre-professional dance training once confronted with the intransigence of their genetic makeup.

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Founded by Michael and Pamela Bjerknes—strong proponents of the “In Order to Do It Right, You Have to Do It Yourself” philosophy—ADI opened on Sept. 18 and features a pre-professional program in contemporary dance aimed at serving children who may not have ballet bodies but who do have a passion for dance. “To enter a dance studio is to enter a cathedral,” says Pamela Bjerknes, who took great pains to find the perfect place for her school. That place turned out to be a former furniture warehouse in Rockville.

The Bjerkneses met and married while principals with the Houston Ballet, and they have worked as dancers with the American Ballet Theatre and the Joffrey Ballet in New York. They moved to Washington in 1985, when Michael was appointed master of ballet at the Washington Ballet. Pamela, who stopped dancing professionally to raise their three children, has taught at the Washington Ballet and the Maryland Youth Ballet, and founded the Ballet E#cole in Bethesda.

At the heart of ADI’s mission lies a philosophy of inclusion. Positive body image and general wellness principles are being incorporated into the study of dance, and the school offers physical conditioning in addition to a wide range of dance classes. The directors believe that the school is not only for dancers, but for everyone interested in movement. Adult classes for beginners, enthusiasts, and professionals in contemporary dance, ballet, stretch, and Pilates are all conducted on a drop-in basis. The children and teens’ pre-professional program runs from September to June. —Maori Karmael Holmes