By Janee Law
While adapting to the art of war as most soldiers did during the Vietnam War, Frank Ohman, then 22 years old, continued to practice the art of ballet, keeping up with his craft as a cook stationed at Fort Ord in California.
“This woman in that area had a ballet school, and she let me have the keys to” it, Ohman, now 77, said. Before heading back to the fort, he said he’d work out in the studio, and “then on night watch when everybody was asleep in the fort, I’d pull up my fatigues and do ballet.”
This passion for ballet, which has taken him through careers with both San Francisco Ballet and New York City Ballet, led Ohman to create a school of his own. In 1974, he founded the New York Dance Theatre. Five years later, he also formed the Ohman School of Ballet, a nonprofit, non-recital and non-competition division of New York Dance Theatre. Ohman is the artistic director and president of both entities.
During his 22 years as a soloist for New York City Ballet, Ohman studied professionally with its founder, George Balanchine. The teachings of Balanchine are now being passed down by Ohman to his own students.
“His classes were very thorough, very basic and very difficult,” Ohman said, adding that Balanchine came from Russia, bringing a neoclassical style of dance to the U.S. “He wanted us to be perfect, but then when he let us dance on the stage he let us go. He would let us have freedom because that was the America that he knew.”
At the Ohman School of Ballet, Ohman said he wants to ensure that students aren’t “intimated.”
“They should come because they want to learn and study,” he said. The school, which was previously located in Greenlawn and Huntington, is now found at 60 Calvert Avenue in Commack. Currently, Ohman shares the school district rental building with Suffolk Childcare Council.
Argere Loizides, 67, who oversees production and performance at the school, said Ohman’s “philosophy has always been anybody is welcome.
“The doors are open to anyone who’s interested and making that child the best dancer that they can be regardless of whether they have natural ability or not,” Loizides said, adding that students don’t have to audition to get into the school, but must take a free placement test.
During the week, the school offers three to four classes a day with a six to 10 class capacity so instructors are able to teach on a personal level.
“Whether you're 8 years old or 48 years old, a ballet class begins with the barre,” Loizides said, adding that students, starting at the age of 3, take Creative Movement class with learning basics and muscle memory.
Loizides said students take away the love, the artistry and the discipline that it offers and carries with them throughout life.
Classes are formatted depending on the age, Ohman said, with warm ups, barre work, working on center, slow movements and jumps.
“The thing is to have young people love ballet and that it does something for them,” Ohman said. “I do it out of pure love for what I do and that should come through to my students.”