The extravagant article written by Susan Kepecs about Madison Ballet's hiring of 12 dancers and its upcoming performances makes me wonder why this big focus on the temporarily hired dancers for a few performances ("A Giant Leap," 11/2/07). It appears that Madison Ballet's own dancers aren't capable of stepping it up.
I know that Dance Wisconsin, directed by JoJean Retrum, is the only pre-professional dance company in Wisconsin where the dancers do step it up to perform leads and solos, and furthermore go on to be professionals.
One of JoJean's best-known graduates is Ethan Stiefel, who has danced many leads with the American Ballet Theatre. Others have performed on Broadway, with Disney, the Rockettes, Milwaukee Ballet, in movies like Center Stage and Bring It On Again, and in several other professional dance companies.
JoJean Retrum, unlike Madison Ballet's W. Earle Smith, does not need to rely on prominent guest artists to carry her shows. She already has the talent to carry the show.
The one thing that Madison Ballet has over Dance Wisconsin is funding. Why are outstanding companies like Dance Wisconsin and other arts organizations not funded like the Overture Center companies are?
I was a student at Monona Academy of Dance for 15 years until I graduated from Monona Grove High school. I was also part of JoJean's studio company, Mad City Dancers, and her pre-professional Dance Wisconsin.
JoJean's high-quality training landed me a job with the Milwaukee Ballet II, then with the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. I'm currently in Madison teaching at JoJean's dance studio and in the public schools.
For more information about Nutcracker Fantasy and Dance Wisconsin, visit www.dancewisconsin.com or call 608-221-4535.
Celia Pierquet Flores
It is quite wonderful that Madison Ballet has expanded its program into a full professional company. But I am concerned about the many dance and theater groups in the greater Madison area that do not have the luxury of being Overture residents.
They struggle routinely for funding for their art, all the while working hard and creatively to put on many excellent performances.
I have particular experience with Dance Wisconsin. Earlier, as the Wisconsin Dance Ensemble, it introduced The Nutcracker Ballet to Madison 31 years ago. It continues the tradition with an excellent holiday performance called Nutcracker Fantasy.
Again, best wishes to Madison Ballet. But as the holiday season approaches, don't miss the chance to support and experience excellent ballet, theater and music from the smaller companies that bless our fine city.
Kent Hartung, Sun Prairie
Not a model
Reporter Jason Shepard does not intend Wingra-style schooling for all children, but only for those whose parents are sophisticated enough at using the system to enroll their children in a charter school ("Rethinking How Kids Learn," 11/2/07).
Rather than providing better instruction for all, this move to "progressive" education would serve middle-class families with highly educated parents who are poised for flight from public schools, but cannot quite afford, or do not wish to pay private school tuition for their children.
In essence, this type of charter school would be a private school within an already increasingly divided public school system. I am not against all charter schools all of the time, but it is important to recognize that the language of "marketization," "choice" and "freedom" used to advocate for them does not mean equal access for all children.
Dory Lightfoot, Assistant professor bilingual education, University of Illinois at Chicago
When my daughter was in preschool, I visited Wingra school and was impressed. I was about to sign her up when I discovered a similarly structured and progressive public school alternative: the Open Classroom program at Lincoln Elementary.
Now in its 32nd year, the Lincoln program consists of three classrooms where K-5 students spend their entire elementary school careers in a close-knit community.
Students learn through inquiry-based projects, and a main goal is to accommodate individual differences. Over the years, the Open Classroom has often been Madison's only public elementary school alternative, and it is in such demand that the lottery for its eight kindergarten spots leaves many families disappointed.
However, the program is often on the budget chopping block because its K-2 students can sometimes be squeezed into classrooms at their home schools at slightly lower cost. Luckily, the Open Classroom has in recent years been recognized as a valued alternative that keeps families in the Madison public schools, instead of in those of neighboring communities or in private alternatives like Wingra.
Wingra's model will tell the public schools nothing that they don't already know. If you take 15 kids who are well mannered; from relatively cultured homes; with good, attentive parents; with books and magazines in their houses; who have taken music lessons; have good teeth and health insurance; and whose parents are willing to spend $10,000 for elementary school tuition and put them in a classroom, things will go well for teacher and student.
I know because I've almost been there. I taught talented and gifted English classes at Memorial High School for 20 years. I could operate somewhat like that, except that I had to do more direct teaching to prepare the kids for college.
I also taught summer school for about 20 years. Towards the end, I had classes of about 30 students, almost all of whom had failed English. (I might have a couple of Asian kids whose parents sent them to summer school to raise a B grade to an A.) Of the 28 flunkees, three or so would drop out after the first week, five more would drop out at two weeks, and five more would drop or flunk out by the fifth week. I'd be left with the 15 flunkees and my two B students. Wingra would not have worked with the summer school kids.
Regarding Jerry Minnich's survey of local chili ("Chili Time," 11/16/07): Granted, it was only eight participants, but I will without hesitation say that Phil's 5 Alarm Texas Chili, which Phil Ladwig produces at the Harmony Bar & Grill, blows the beans out of all of them in flavor and meat quality.
Keith Daniels, Harmony Bar & Grill