FRONT ROYAL — The Northern Virginia Academy of Ballet has reopened with founder Karen Eriksson-Lee as artistic director and teacher.

“Slide up into passe. Is your heel forward. Lift to attitude. Heel forward,” Eriksson-Lee instructed her class of six students on a recent evening.

She re-opened the studio about a year ago, and said she loves being back teaching in the Shenandoah Valley and Front Royal.

Eriksson-Lee has been a dancer for 50 years and she moves like a dancer as she weaves in and out of the students, positioning them.

“I love them,” Eriksson-Lee said as she looks over her students. “I want them to be strong. I want them to be confident.”

The students keep her young. They keep her moving, she said.

One of her students is Iris Shrader, 10, who has been taking lessons since Eriksson-Lee reopened the studio.

“I am having fun. I can actually stay on my toes (in what is called the passe position),” Iris said.

She has been involved in performances in front of an audience.

“Everyone was watching,” she said. “It was fun but kind of scary.”

Iris is eagerly waiting summer when she plans to travel to Pennsylvania for a ballet intensive camp at the new Pennsylvania Ballet Academy, run by Prima Ballerina Vanessa Zahorian and her husband Davit Karapetyan, both former principal dancers with the San Francisco Ballet.

Eriksson-Lee taught ballet to Iris’ mom Julia Brody as well as a number of her present student’s parents or older siblings.

“Dancing was like freedom. It helped with stress,” Brody said.

She said she also loves to watch her daughter at the studio working with her former teacher.

“It makes me cry. It also makes me proud to see her work so hard,” Brody said.

Eriksson-Lee began to instruct her students as they ran through a performance of a suite of dances set to childhood songs, such as “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

The students will perform to these songs at 6:30 p.m Tuesday at the Samuels Public Library in Front Royal.

“I am so proud of them,” Eriksson-Lee said.

The ballet teacher opened the Northern Virginia Academy of Ballet in 1988. She operated it until 2009 when she took a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and moved to Pennsylvania to work with Marcia Dale Weary at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. Eriksson-Lee was also on the faculty there.

Eriksson-Lee said she was blessed to call Weary her mentor.

“Working with her changed my world. She has a very specific technique. I was one of the few blessed to have studied under her, which made me a better teacher,” Eriksson-Lee said.

And studying under Weary has made her a better dance instructor, she said.

Northern Virginia Academy of Ballet

Location: 18 W. 6th St., Front Royal.

Phone: 540-664-4232


Camps: Eriksson-Lee is hosting camps from June 10-13 and June 17-20 as well as a July Summer Dance Camp in conjunction with the Warren County Fair Association Tuesdays and Wednesdays in July through the first week in August.

– Contact Melissa Topey at