Setting the Barre

Cindy Dashnaw

from Spring 2016

While most high-school juniors were getting their driver’s licenses, Karnjanakorn “Gift” Sapianchai was saying goodbye to everyone and everything she knew. 

She was moving 8,100 miles from home to dance ballet. 

“Home” is Bangkok, Thailand, on Southeast Asia’s Indochina peninsula. While younger Thai children can learn ballet at studios, dance offerings in general are severely limited in her country, Sapianchai said. 

“I think art hasn’t developed in the same way there that it has here or in Europe. Sports are more developed [in Thailand]. My sister is a swimmer for the national team, and she plans to try out for the Olympics in a few years. 

"Dancing allows me to express what's inside of me."

“I started ballet because my parents thought it would improve my posture,” she said. “I also did piano, art lessons, swimming, all the other sports. Eventually, they all went away except for ballet.” 

Sapianchai’s ballet instructors followed the RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) syllabus, an internationally recognized portfolio of exams and assessments that outline a progressive structure for learning and achievement. But it goes only so far in a culture that doesn’t value ballet, she said. Bangkok City Ballet is the country’s only professional ballet company. 

Fortunately, a teacher in Sapianchai’s studio danced professionally and recognized her potential. He recommended that she audition for the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, DC. 

“I sent in a video, and they accepted me,” Sapianchai said. “We had academics in the morning, then four hours of ballet in the afternoon and sometimes rehearsals.” 

The experience strengthened her love of ballet. She chose to attend Butler because she knew it had one of the top dance programs in the country and offered a wide range of dance styles. 

“Even if you’re a dance major, you’re not restricted to just dancing. You can take Arts Administration, Arts Pedagogy, or the History of Dance. The Dance professors really know what they’re doing, and students are very connected to them. They offer you very personal advice,” she said. 

“And they encourage you to do a second major or a minor that’s completely separate from Dance, so that when you graduate, you don’t feel like your only option is to be a professional dancer. You will have other skills.” 

Sapianchai appreciates the “strong sense of community in Ballet, the College, the entire campus” she has found at Butler. She also is glad for the hard work. 

“In the RAD system, it is the same class every single day, just repeated. Here, at Butler and at Kirov, every class is different. They make your brain work in different ways because you have to apply different combinations to music you may never have heard before. 

“I grew up with a lot of classical ballet. I wasn’t aware of other types of ballet like modern or Balanchine. Now that I’m here, I’m doing a wide repertoire and learning there’s a lot more to ballet,” she said. 

Sapianchai plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in Dance Performance, then audition for a dance company here in Indianapolis. 

“Ballet allows me to express myself. I’m not a very vocal person, so dancing allows me to express what’s inside of me,” she said.