Ballet Arizona: Raising the Barre

Intimate outdoor performances. Imaginative matinees. World premieres before an enthusiastic crowd. Ballet Arizona has been bringing all this and more to audiences since it began in 1985.

But the organization is also dedicated to reaching a much wider audience as part of its community outreach program.

“Ballet Arizona has a mission to teach, create and perform outstanding classical and contemporary ballet, and to serve our communities through superior educational and outreach programs,” says executive director David Thompkins. “At the core of [our outreach is] the idea that the quality of life in Arizona is enhanced by building community through dance.

“Because access to dance and ballet performance and training of the highest caliber can be limited by many factors, Ballet Arizona strives to make the joy of dance attainable for all, with our comprehensive community programs,” he continues.

Ballet Arizona’s outreach program has evolved over nearly three decades, beginning with matinee performances for school age children in 1988. Today, the wide-ranging program reaches more than 30,000 people each year with a variety of unique and engaging programs.

One of the most popular ways the ballet reaches out to the community is through performances, such as Ballet Under the Stars, which has been bringing free, family-friendly performances to outdoor public spaces around the Valley for 18 years.

Through Angel Nights, the company provides free tickets to children and families served by nonprofit organizations and from underserved schools. The company also offers pre-performance chats—giving ticket holders the opportunity to learn more about the ballet being performed—and student matinees that provide the opportunity for school children to attend a live performance as part of a field trip.

The ballet also engages the community through dance instruction programs. The Class Act program, for instance, pairs professional dancers with students as they create an all-new ballet from start to finish.

Ballet Arizona’s programs don’t stop there. This year, the company introduced two unique opportunities to reach even more children and adults. The Adaptive Dance program is designed for children ages 8 to 15 with Down syndrome who are interested in music, dance and self-expression. And through Dance for Parkinson’s Disease, participants enjoy a stimulating mental activity that connects mind to body, boosts flexibility, instills confidence and breaks isolation.

Ballet Arizona funds all of its outreach programs through the support of individual donors, foundations, corporations and government funding. This year’s outreach budget totals more than $500,000.

The benefit of this community investment is easily seen in the faces of enthusiastic audience members, particularly aspiring dancers. Ballet students in an after-school enrichment program serving the Osborn School District in Phoenix are proof of that. In many cases, those children have never attended live ballet, nor have parents who chaperone field trips to performances, says Camden Lloyd, a ballet instructor who oversees the enrichment program.

“For ballet program participants, such enrichments are invaluable in encouraging their own efforts and perseverance,” he says.

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