FYI | Ballet for All in St. Paul



What’s up in the dance community

Ballet should be open to anyone, regardless of age, race, body type, gender, income, or language. That’s the thinking at St. Paul Ballet, a Minnesota company and nonprofit dance school that has implemented programs designed to shift people’s thinking about what a ballet dancer should look like.

Assistant Emilia Garrido provides translation services for Spanish-speaking families attending St. Paul Ballet’s Parent and Me classes.
Photo by Lori Gleason

SPB’s annual health fair and its “Take Back the Tutu” lecture series—featuring nutritionists, physical therapists, and the like—emphasize athleticism and the idea that ballet can accommodate various body types. “In the past, dancers would have to fit into a model,” school director Laura C.C. Greenwell told Dance Studio Life. “It’s very damaging, physically and mentally. We’re taking a stand against that.” And parents are pleased. “They’re so excited we’re not making their child something they’re not,” she says. “The dancer can dance with more mental freedom.”

Outreach to new dancers is also a priority. An American Ballet Theatre-certified teacher, Greenwell scouts young talent at local Boys & Girls Clubs through ABT’s inclusivity-oriented program Project Plié, and offers scholarships to promising youngsters. SPB’s Parent and Me classes for young children, meanwhile, welcome Spanish-speaking families; a Spanish-speaking teaching assistant translates. “Language can be another barrier to dance,” Greenwell says. “We’re expanding our staff with more bilingual members and trying our best to open these doors.”

Boys get their turn through Boys Club, a free class for boys ages 7 to 12; the school works with a neighboring gym run by a boxer to expose more boys to dance (and more girls and women to boxing and conditioning classes). And older dancers attend SPB’s Life Long Ballet classes, which Greenwell describes as slightly gentler than the average class, but still rigorous enough that company dancers sometimes take them too. With an average age of 60, the older students inspire their younger counterparts. “It’s really cool for our young dancers to see you can dance your entire life,” Greenwell says.

Not only are SPB’s programs breaking down barriers, they’re boosting the bottom line; the school has seen a 20 percent increase in pre-professional dancer enrollment (beginning ballet to Level 6) in the last three years. “It’s exciting, because we’re getting people we’ve never had before,” Greenwell says. For details, see spballet.org.