Slender and graceful, Randall Marks looks and moves like a dancer. He walks with a steady, light step and stands straight. His arms glide through the air when he gestures. Every step, every movement he makes has a purpose.
Now his purpose is bringing classical ballet to Killeen. Marks’ new Texas Metropolitan Ballet, 3500 Trimmier Road, across from Ellison High School, opens its fall semester Aug. 15.
According to Marks, Killeen students have a seriousness for ballet that is missing in Austin, where he taught for 15 years.
“Students here want to learn classical ballet and in Austin there’s a dance studio on every corner, but they are not teaching classical ballet anymore,” said Marks, owner and director of Texas Metropolitan Ballet. “I couldn’t afford a school like this in Austin, but Killeen is ready for it.”
Using a blend of Vaganova, Bournonville and French methods, Marks teaches ballet’s technical skills and artistry, and in order to do the classics, such as “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker,” students must be taught the classical style.
In recent years, Marks said he’s seen a dumbing down of classical ballet into a modern, dark style that lets dancers do whatever they want.
“I’ve seen students do strange things that they’ve been taught, but I want to do beautiful ballet performances again,” Marks said.
Texas Metropolitan Ballet occupies the former home of Newcomb School of Ballet that recently closed. Newcomb owner Renee E. “Sissie” Gillenwater died in July 2015 and prior to her death, she invited Marks to teach a master class at the school, which he did last fall.
While he was still director of ballet at the Austin School for the Performing and Visual Arts, he was asked by the school to conduct ballet classes for advanced students twice a week starting in January. Then Marks saw a chance to open his own ballet school when Newcomb closed.
‘World is in Killeen’
One of the attractions of this area, Marks said, is the diversity of people and cultures and a willingness to embrace ballet.
“I’ve danced all over the world and I love that the world is in Killeen. And people have said how glad they are that we’re here.”
Classes are divided into four levels from beginner to advanced students with ages starting at 4 years old to adults 18 and older. Additionally, character dance is part of classical dance training, though it is rarely taught in most schools. It is a stylized representation of traditional folk dances found in ballets. Besides Randall, his wife, Jeanne Marie Marks, will teach at the school. They have one son, Aaron, 10.
The school has two dance studios, a smaller one and a larger one that is now equipped with a Marley dance floor that cost $4,000. It was the most expensive item for the school with start-up costs totaling about $10,000. Marks still needs to restock the costume collection for shows, plus get some basic office furniture, like a small desk.
With more than 30 years of experience as a ballet dancer, Marks is a self-described task master that doesn’t sugar-coat anything for his students.
“I tell them when they are good and when they’re not.” Marks emphasized that he teaches like he is trying to make every student a professional dancer. Eventually, he would like to make the school a semi-professional ballet company.
“I think this area could support it,” he said.
Most children start ballet lessons at a young age, but Marks didn’t begin ballet until he was about 11. He was a gymnast and on the diving team, and said diving and ballet are pretty much the same: It’s all about lines. Then he saw a performance by the Russian ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov.
“I said that’s what I want to do,” Marks said.
A native of Philadelphia, Marks comes from a musical family where every member plays an instrument. During his career, Marks has danced with the New York City Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company, Connecticut Ballet Theater, and as a soloist with Ballets Elan and Atlantic City Ballet, plus many other companies. As principal dancer with Ballet Austin, Dance Magazine described him as “a cocky young Gene Kelly, hoofing his heart out.”
But in 2008, the physical rigors of dance coupled with its “survival pay” made him decide to hang up his ballet shoes opting to teach, which he adores.
“I have to teach and choreograph or I’ll fade away. Dance is in me,” he said.