The Willis Ballet


Peggy Willis-Aarnio

Dr. Peggy Willis-Aarnio is Professor Emeritus and a member of the Graduate Faculty in the Department of Theatre and Dance, former Head of the Dance Program at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.  She was also a former soloist with the Fort Worth Ballet in Fort Worth, Texas.  She received her B.F.A. and her M.F.A. Degrees from Texas Christian University in 1970 and 1972, respectively and her Ph.D. in 2002 from Mellen University.  From 1968 to 1971, she performed in over 2800 performances in a summer theatre in Florida. She has continued her professional development with a series of post-graduate pedagogical studies with John Barker of New York, and Valentina Roumiantseva of the Vaganova Ballet Academy of Saint-Petersburg, Russia.  In 1992, she received an invitation to complete her (advanced level) pedagogical studies in Teaching Method at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in Saint-Petersburg, Russia, where she became the first American Ballet Teacher to be sanctioned as a "Certified Practitioner and Teacher of the Teaching Method of Classical Ballet."

She is a prolific choreographer with over 60 original ballet works to her credit. Her full-length, original ballet, "Dracula – the ballet" appeared on U.S. Public Television in 1982 and was shown by over 70% of the PBS Affiliates nationwide (the highest carriage rate, at that time, of any fine arts program originating outside the N.Y. metropolitan area). In the last seven years, in addition to over fifteen original ballet and modern ballet works created for her students’ performances at Texas Tech, she also has had the distinction of creating three, major new Classical Ballet works for two of the major Classical Ballet Companies of (Saint-Petersburg) Russia . The first two, "Rhapsody on a Love Theme" – 1993 - (to the music of Rachmaninov’s "Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini") and "Remember When" – 1996 - (to a medley of the music of George Gershwin) were created for The Saint-Petersburg (State and Academic) Ballet and their guest soloist, Prima Ballerina Assoluta, Galina Mezentseva, and have been performed over 140 times, all over the world. The most recent work, "The Diamond Ballet" – 1999 –  has been created for the Saint-Petersburg Ballet Theatre (of Konstantin Tatchkine), and is a celebration of the purity and power of Classical Ballet to stir the human spirit. It is a fitting new contribution to the repertoire of Classical Ballet, as we go forth into the new millennium. Its world premiere will be in the U.S. starting on 6 October 1999 through 12 February 2000 on the Saint-Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s first North American Tour.

Professor Willis-Aarnio is also the Author, Director and Narrator of the unique and valuable video reference work on the (Russian) Teaching Method of Classical Ballet, "Classical Ballet Lesson" (In eight Volumes, first through eighth class). The series is currently distributed worldwide and is in high demand by teachers and students of Classical Ballet. The demonstration lessons are performed by Prima Ballerina Assoluta, Galina Mezentseva (Formerly of the Kirov Ballet), and two of Dr.. Willis-Aarnio’s students, and is considered by many of her peers as the definitive visual reference work and a benchmark on the Teaching Method of Classical Ballet.

She is also the author and director of a Music CD Series (in eight volumes, classes 1 through 8) entitled "Music for the Classical Ballet Lesson." For this project, she selected Ludmilla P. Vlasenko, an award-winning pianist and former accompanist at the Vaganova Ballet Academy, and one of the few pianists in the world specifically trained as an accompanist for the Classical Ballet Lesson, to create a totally unique music collection, specifically for use with the (Russian) Classical Ballet Syllabus. This series, also is distributed world-wide, and has received accolades from all classes of users.

Dr. Willis-Aarnio is also the Director and Senior Teacher of The Willis Conservatory of Classical Ballet, a school that she founded in 1979 specifically for the purpose of providing an affordable opportunity for local children, regardless of family circumstances or background, to have access to true Classical Ballet Instruction. In 1983, Paul Aarnio and a group of local friends formed The Peggy Willis Ballet Company of the Conservatory of Classical Ballet, Inc. (so named to honor her for her achievements in teaching and choreography), to give her the means to continue to pursue her artistic vision, "To Preserve the Complete Tradition of Classical Ballet in Education, Teaching and Performance,"  and to offer her students performing opportunities at Texas Tech University and her own Conservatory.  Her official title became "Artistic Director/Choreographer," a post she has held ever since. The Peggy Willis Ballet Company of the Conservatory of Classical Ballet, Inc., working through the Conservatory (its official school) and in concert with The Texas Tech, has expanded the performing opportunities for Tech and local Ballet Students, and brought true Classical Ballet performances to Lubbock and other ballet audiences all over North America, and even to the United Kingdom (1987).

Professor Peggy Willis-Aarnio has recently been honored by the Society of Russian Style Ballet (President, Gabriella Komleva, Honorary Chair, Anna Lendrum), Headquartered in London, England. The Society is an international examining body for promoting teaching and performing excellence in ballet. She was accepted to the Society as an honorary member, and designated as the Society’s North American Representative and their newest board examiner. As the North American Representative of the Society, she is actively engaged in building a teacher/school network in North America, and conducting teacher training courses for any (and all) interested parties.

Professor Willis-Aarnio was engaged for the seven years in doing research, and writing the first, English Language Biography of the life and professional achievements of the great Russian Pedagogue and Choreographer, Prof. Agrippina Vaganova. The Book, titled "Agrippina Vaganova (1879-1951) Her Place in the History of Ballet and Her Impact on the Future of Classical Dance." This project was inspired by the fact that though Vaganova is, arguably, one of the most influential and significant figures in the teaching and the performing of Classical Ballet in the Twentieth Century, only sketchy information exists on her, or her accomplishments, in the English Language. Prof. Willis-Aarnio was awarded a leave of absence (Sabbatical) by Texas Tech in 1997, so that she could complete her primary source (Russian Language) research. The manuscript was complete in the Fall of 2001, and was published by the Edwin Mellen Press (Lewiston, NY) in October of 2002.

In 1998, she was honored by the City of Lubbock, when she became the recipient of the prestigious YWCA’s 1998 Woman of Excellence in Arts and Culture Award.

Since her retirement from Texas Tech University in 2003, she has continued in her career by serving as Director and Pedagogue of The Willis Conservatory of Classical Ballet and as Artistic Director/Choreographer of its company, The Peggy Willis Ballet Company of the Conservatory of Classical Ballet.   To date, her works have been seen by over one half million people in North America and Europe and her educational products are sold and appreciated world wide.  She continues to train teachers who are interested in the teaching method of classical dance, the only scientifically based and physiologically sound training system for classical ballet today.

Peggy Willis-Aarnio is the Daughter of Margaret Dozier and the late Walter Dozier of Panama City Beach, Florida, and the "Twin Flame" of Paul Aarnio.




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Above, The First Willis Ballet Company, 1983 and below, Prof. Peggy Willis-Aarnio's "The Diamond Ballet" starring the Saint-Petersburg Classic Ballet Theatre of Marina Medvetskaya, 2007













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