Originally published in The Crimson White
It’s debatable to say that all The University of Alabama creates is legends, but it’s hard to debate the role faculty members play in students’ careers, especially faculty members like Qianping Guo. Guo, an associate professor of dance who danced with two of the top ballet companies in China and America, is a gold and silver medalist in multiple international ballet competitions.
On the second floor of Clark Hall, Guo leads his students through intricate ballet combinations, making sure that students learn the techniques and understand why they matter.
For Guo, ballet isn’t just about “beautiful movements”; it’s about the reasoning. In the 10 years he has been at the University, he has created bonds of trust with his students and instilled in them an attention to detail.
According to some of his students, Guo’s dedication to his craft has helped them tremendously. Carey Hodovanich, a corps de ballet dancer at Ballet Pensacola and a UA alumna, said Guo’s passion for ballet was obvious.
“You can tell how much he loves it, and that makes me love it even more, because I know I’m learning from someone who loves it,” Hodovanich said. “It’s not just him giving me corrections because that’s his job. He’s giving it because he loves the art form, and he wants to see me do it the best that I can do it.”
Hodovanich said Guo always saw room for improvement in every dancer and pushed them to be better while encouraging them. She said that Guo was intent on making sure his students worked hard, which helped her grow as a dancer, and that his attention to detail made her think less about the big picture and more about the details and the “intention behind it.”
“It clicked in my brain, and it helped make picking up choreography a lot easier, and it just kind of helped me with my artistry because it gave my movement purpose,” she said. “It then helps me be successful in the professional world, because I was picking up details and not having to wait to be corrected on them.”
While Guo has affected UA students, he’s also created connections through mentoring and teaching students outside of the University like Lumeng, Jiao Yang and Jolie Rose Lombardo, all of whom have won medals in international and national ballet competitions.
In 2016, after evacuating Orlando due to Hurricane Hermine, Lombardo, a Florida native, had her first class with Guo at age 14. After the class, Lombardo left excited to learn more.
“The class was so good. I love being challenged. … I want to have a combination that I can’t do yet, … and his class was so difficult and absolutely on the Vaganova training that I was like, ‘That’s a real class,’” Lombardo said.
Lombardo and Guo continued to work together throughout 2018 until the regional Youth America Grand Prix, after which Lombardo got sick and went back to Tuscaloosa to recuperate. During this time, he not only helped her get back to 100%, but also helped her prepare the variation her previous ballet teacher gave her for the Youth America Grand Prix finals.
Stephanie Lombardo, Jolie’s mother, said that after six weeks the variation looked completely different. Jolie Lombardo took the piece to New York for the Youth America Grand Prix competition and received a gold medal.
“[The directors of the competition] kept saying, ‘You’re a different dancer,’ not that her ballet teacher wasn’t great in Atlanta. She was wonderful, but they didn’t give her the amount of time,” Stephanie Lombardo said. “When you have somebody that will spend time with you and fix everything and prepare you for a competition that big — that’s what he did, and it was his phenomenal training.”
Through Guo’s preparation, Jolie Lombardo went on to become one of the youngest finalists at the USA International Ballet Competition. After that, Lombardo won a full scholarship to the John Cranko Schule, a renowned ballet school, in Stuttgart, Germany.
Things for Jolie Lombardo took a harrowing turn when after Christmas in 2019, she began to have trouble sleeping and experienced excruciating pain when she tried. At a hospital in Germany, she found out she had a tumor on her spinal cord. Reluctant to let her daughter have a major surgery like that without her around, Stephanie Lombardo worked to get her daughter back home.
A day later, Jolie Lombardo and her parents were at Children’s Scottish Rite Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, when a doctor informed them that if they had waited a few more days to come in or if Lombardo had fallen asleep from exhaustion and the tumor had moved the “slightest bit south,” she could have been paralyzed.
The surgery went well, but for the first three days, Lombardo was paralyzed even though she was supposed to be able to move.
“For me having three weeks off is a nightmare, you know? Being not able to move, I never thought I’d ever have to experience that in my entire life, because my life is moving,” Lombardo said. “So when I woke up and I could not move, it was the most frustrating thing. … It was absolutely horrifying. The worst feeling in my entire life.”
Luckily, on the fourth day, Lombardo was able to move her arm, then from there she worked her way from the bed to a wheelchair to a walker, and then she was off to a rehabilitation center in Florida.
Stephanie Lombardo said that the second she was able to get into a studio, Jolie called Guo. During this time, Jolie Lombardo could only do half a barre sequence, but with Guo’s help she got better.
“Everyone thinks it’s my school [the John Cranko Schule], but it’s not. It’s here, and it’s because we love the University so much,” she said.
Stephanie Lombardo said she credits Guo’s training along with her daughter’s positive thinking. She said there was never a doubt in her daughter’s mind about the trajectory of her career.
Now, Jolie Lombardo has a job with Stuttgart Ballet, a leading German ballet company, and can openly give that credit to Guo, whereas before she couldn’t because of her connection to the John Cranko Schule.
Hodovanich said she loved being able to experience class with Lombardo because it gave her something to strive for and showed her that Guo’s methods work.
“It was kind of like the proof, not that I needed it, but it was nice to be like, ‘Oh, yes. This is good,’” she said. “[Lombardo] came back, and she was saying that the level class that we were doing, we looked absolutely fantastic. So, it was nice validation to hear from someone who was in the professional world at the college level.”