Jazz Program



Leah Stephens Smith

The Ballet Center of Houston is proud to offer our Jazz Program headed by Leah Stephens Smith.  Ms. Smith began teaching in the Fall Session 2014-2015. 

Leah Smith was born in El Paso, Texas. Her family moved shortly after to Monroe, Louisiana.  She received most of her training with Linda Lavender School of Dance and was a member of Twin City Ballet Company.  Leah has performed many roles including various parts in Victoria Vittum’s staging of “The Nutcracker” and the leading role in her “Bolero” for Twin City Ballet.

Leah began assisting for Linda Lavender School of Dance in 2008 then moved to a teaching position in the fall of 2011. She teaches many styles of dance, including classical ballet, jazz, contemporary and tap.  She is very passionate about teaching and believes in nurturing the hearts of children, while instilling in them a love for the art form and an appreciation for the beauty that is created through movement. Level 3/4 Jazz is designed for BCH students that are currently enrolled in Levels 3 or 4. 

This is a beginner to intermediate level class. Approximate ages 9-13. Level 5 Jazz is for BCH students that are currently enrolled in Level 5 or new students with prior jazz training.  Approximate ages 10-15. Level 6/7 Jazz/Contemporary is for BCH students that are currently enrolled in Levels 6 or7.  New students that have had extensive jazz training are welcome. Average age is 13-18. Answers from the teacher… 



Why Jazz? 

Jazz teaches strength and power very quickly and ballet teaches grace and elegance. When you are able to execute both well, you are a more sought after dancer. The importance of being a well rounded dancer is just as important as being a well rounded academic student. The expectation when you walk into an audition is to be able to perform well in multiple styles so the choreographers know where you work best. Jazz uses the muscles differently. It is more of a contraction of the muscle while ballet is the expanding of the muscle. It is very important to learn how to do both so you can equally work the muscles in both ways. Working in both styles strengthens the muscles which can ultimately reduce the risk for injuries. 


What kind of jazz do we offer? 

Modern jazz dance is influenced by many people. The techniques I pull from are influenced by classic jazz dancers like Gus Giordano, Bob Fosse, Jerome Robins, and Katherine Dunham. All had specific styles that contributed to modern jazz dance today. I use these techniques and styles while adding a little more modern feel to the movement, making it seem a little more exciting to the dancers. Jazz dance has always been a high energy style but has evolved into a more trick oriented style. We try to maintain a balance between tricks and movement. The music is upbeat and exciting. I work hard to keep our music up to date, age appropriate, and clean. 


What is contemporary? 

Contemporary is a mixed technique of any and all styles of dance. I like to describe dance in boxes. Each style, ballet, jazz, and tap, have a box that they fit in, for the most basic purposes of this example, for their techniques and executions. Contemporary has a box that can encompass any of these styles inside it. My particular style of contemporary tends to pull more from modern and ballet. I like the clean lines of the Horton Modern technique, the contractions and emotions from the Graham Modern technique, and the fluidity and elegance of ballet. As a choreographer though, that changes with the dancers. If the dancers are well rounded, I choreograph a little more freely. If they are stronger in a particular technique, I try to incorporate that style in my movement so they feel more comfortable. I assess the dancers and create accordingly, while still pushing them to step outside their comfort zones. Through the year, I create all different kinds of movement for them to try on themselves so they can play with creativity and freedom in the classroom. I encourage free movement, or freestyle, as much as possible so each dancer can find their "voice",  their style. I incorporate different kinds of music in a contemporary class, ranging in tempo and energy. 


Is it beneficial to my dancer?  

It is always beneficial to branch out and try something new; knowing each style of dance will not be for everyone. My suggestion is always to begin and end the year in a class. Don't quit just because you were uncomfortable in the first 2 or 3 classes. It is hard to transition between styles, so remember that as you enter each new classroom with each new teacher. It is also good to take from multiple teachers with different styles before completely ruling out that technique from your repertoire. I strive to give the dancers the training and openness they need to go into any classroom with any teacher and do well. That is the goal of each and every teacher here.