September 30, 2020

Ballet Instruction for all Ages and Abilities Is Offered by the Martin Center for Dance

THE PLACE TO DANCE: “In the classes, everyone wants to do well, so when they see they are making progress, they work harder. The greater portion of our students are serious about it,” says Douglas Martin, who, with his wife Mary Barton, owns and directs Martin Center For Dance. Shown are advanced students in the Modern Technique class.

By Jean Stratton

“Dancing is the loftiest, the most moving, the most
beautiful of the arts, because it is no mere translation
or abstraction from life; it is life itself.”

“The Dance of Life”

—Havelock Ellis

Such thoughts are not only for professional dancers, who devote themselves totally to their art, but to those amateur dancers, young and old, who love to dance to the music and aspire to be the best they can be.   

All these dancers are happy to know that the Martin Center For Dance is now open and offering ballet instruction at all levels. Beautiful dancing makes the music sing, and when done really well, it flows like a dream. The instructors at the Center know all about that.

Located at 11 Princess Road in Lawrence Township, the Center is owned and directed by the husband and wife team of Douglas Martin and Mary Barton.

Both are experienced professional dancers, choreographers, and teachers, who are joined at the Center by faculty members and former dancers and choreographers Mary Pat Robertson, Maria Youskevitch, and Kirk Peterson.

Art of Dance

“Altogether, our faculty experience is about 220 years,” says Douglas Martin. “This sets us apart because we have all been with major dance organizations for many years. Our teachers have had major dance careers, and we are all dedicated to bringing the art of dance to everyone who wants to learn to dance.”

It is indeed a new adventure for them, however, as they launch their own company. As Martin says, though, “When opportunities come your way, you evaluate the possibilities, and we thought about what we could accomplish with our own dance company.”

Both Douglas Martin and Mary Barton started dancing at young ages.

Principal dancer, company director, respected choreographer, and successful teacher, Martin is dedicated to the dance in every way, and his introduction to it was unexpected.

After breaking his ankle in a high school football game, Martin came to realize he wanted to learn ballet. Introduced to the arts by his parents, he was familiar with ballet, having attended many performances.

“After the ankle was set, I woke up and said, ‘Now, I am going to do ballet!’ It really opened the door for me to go into ballet.”

He applied himself with commitment and dedication, and his talent was apparent. As he says, “I started ballet in December 1977 when I was a junior in high school. In 1981, I was in New York City on a scholarship with American Ballet Theatre (ABT).”

Special Scholarship

He was one of only six young male dancers selected to study at the newly formed Mikhail Baryshnikov program at the American Ballet Theatre School.

“Baryshnikov had just become head of the company, and had established a special scholarship, training the next group of young male and female dancers.”

From then on, Martin’s success was unstoppable, and once he began, he never looked back. As he observes, “Dance consumes every moment of your life. It becomes a part of you, and speaks the language of the body.”

He has performed as a principal dancer with major companies such as the Joffrey Ballet (spending the majority of his career working under founder Robert Joffrey), the Cleveland Ballet, and American Repertory Ballet (ARB).

He served as a principal dancer, ballet master, and artistic director for ARB, where he choreographed several new works, and he was a principal faculty member of Princeton Ballet School (PBS). He has also taught at Rutgers University and Westminster Choir College.

Principal Dancer

Mary Barton has had an equally impressive career. She knew early on that ballet was in her future. She received her early training in Thailand, where her father was naval attaché to the American ambassador.

After the family moved to Washington, D.C., she studied at the Washington School of Ballet, and performed young dancer roles at the Kennedy Center. She went on to perform with American Ballet Theatre and Joffrey Ballet, among others.

Her professional experience began at age 16 as a student at The Washington School of Ballet, when she performed with the professional company as a soloist in Balanchine’s Scotch Symphony. At 18. she was the principal guest artist at the Oldenburg Staat Ballet in Germany. She later joined the Dayton Ballet, performing as a principal dancer, then went on to the Joffrey Ballet, where Robert Joffrey created the role of Clara for her in the world premiere his new Nutcracker.

As was Martin’s, her commitment to dance was total and all-consuming. In her words: “It becomes a whole universe inside you.”

Performing as principal dancer with ARB for many years, she also served as resident choreographer and ballet master. Barton was also on the faculty of Princeton Ballet School, where she was a senior teacher and choreographer for the demanding Summer Intensive program.

She has also been a ballet faculty member at Princeton University, and is currently adjunct professor with the Rider University Music Theater Department.

Choreography is a unique and vital part of the dance, and as she explains, “Choreography puts steps together to tell a story. Choreographers have something to say, a way of interpreting the music.”

Widely recognized for her special blend of technical brilliance, artistic expression, and as a teacher and coach, she continues to bring those special qualities to her students in class.

Artistic Expression

The directors are joined at the Center by an exceptional group of experienced and dedicated dancers, choreographers, and teachers.

Director of Princeton Ballet School (PBS) for 30 years, Mary Pat Robertson has had a distinguished career in dance. She has performed with major companies, and studied with Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and David Howard.

Among her many achievements at Princeton Ballet School was her creation of the PBS syllabus, and expansion of both enrollment and the summer program. She was cited by the U.S. Congress for her leadership at the school.

ABT certified teacher and soloist Maria Youskevitch was an important part of PBS for 20 years. She has performed with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, among other major dance companies, and also appeared on television. She brings 44 years of performing and teaching to Martin Dance.

Principal dancer and choreographer, Kirk Peterson began dancing at 3 years old. He has performed at ABT and the San Francisco Ballet, among other companies, and has choreographed more than 50 ballets worldwide.

As a faculty member at Martin Center for Dance, he knows that ballet is not learned from books. It takes one generation of dancers teaching the next generation, passing on to them technical skills and depth of experience, so every student can flourish.

High Hopes

Opening in January of this year, the Martin Center had high hopes to share their founders love of dance with the community. Then, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated changes and adaptations to meet the challenge.

“Actually, we had instituted Zoom classes even before the virus, so we were able to work with that,” says Martin. “We still have virtual classes along with on-site, which we were able to resume in July.”

The location is a 5,000-square-foot former warehouse with ample space, and they made suitable renovations conducive for a dance studio. “We put in the floors, known as ‘bounce floors,’ because they ‘give’ and are easier on the body,” he explains. “The space was great, and served our needs to offer plenty of room for dancing. We are able to accommodate 10 or 12 students in a class now, and even more when we don’t have to worry about the virus.”

All Levels

Classes are available for children and adults of all abilities. The youngest begin at 3, and Martin reports that the current oldest is 84. It is never too late to love to dance. 

Classes are arranged by age and ability, he explains. “The groups are broken down into children’s classes, student classes, and adult classes for beginner, intermediate, and advanced level students. Each of the groups has a specific syllabus developed for their student body and level. Our teachers are specialists in each age group.”

The class schedule is Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., with sessions for the youngest students 45 minutes, and 1 hour and 15 minutes to an hour and a half for older students. Students are coming from Princeton and beyond, including Doylestown, Pa., Delaware, and New York City.

Also, he adds, “stretch and exercise are an integral part of a dancer’s every day workout, and are incorporated throughout class. In addition to classical ballet study, we offer workout classes incorporating adult contemporary dance and modern dance styles. These classes are open for all levels and are currently online only.

“The classes are choreographed to accommodate home dance space,” he continues. “They are constructed to allow the dancers to fulfill the movement to their personal range of physicality and dance ability. They are appropriate for anyone wanting a thoughtful workout. No dance experience is necessary.”

The benefits of ballet are extensive, believe the directors. “For children and students, it teaches focus and discipline, which help your mind develop good skills for learning. It gets kids moving and develops a healthy body, which helps create a positive self-image. It helps create a healthy mind with vigorous physical activity and additional focus on moving to music (rhythm). It helps develop a good memory by constantly challenging the mind to remember new combinations in class.

“In addition to exercise, studying dance gives an appreciation and education in fine arts, including music for movement and understanding the language of our bodies through dance and how we communicate with our bodies.”

The students exhibit a great deal of enthusiasm, report the directors. Ten-year-olds often come four days a week, and it is not unusual for 13-year-olds to arrive eight times a week.

Pleasure and Motivation

Even when the students, especially teens, are tempted by an unending  variety of outside activities, many of them remain focused on ballet, reports Martin. “Many are very serious. When you teach correctly and engage the students, the kids can see the road to success, and this becomes their pleasure and motivation. We teach them how to fulfill their creativity by being committed and working hard.”

That is not to say there is no fun. “We are dedicated to bringing the joy of dance to everyone,” emphasizes Barton. “We are so encouraged with the response, and we hope that our students will love dance the rest of their lives. We are so glad to have the ability to continue doing what we have always loved, and being able to pass it on to others.”

Adds Martin, “We want kids to go home every night and be glad they’ve been here dancing. They walk out of here happy.”

He is happy, too. Happy that he can share his love of dance, and that it can become an enduring part of his students’ lives.

“Mary and I know that this was all we ever wanted to do. We are in a wonderfully happy place in our lives.”

For further information, class schedules, and formats, call (609) 937-8878. Website: