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  • Writer's pictureMoriah Joy

Spotlight Saturdays – Sponsored by Sandler Center Foundation

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

Ballet Virginia

Interview by Moriah Joy. Images courtesy of Ballet Virginia.

This week’s Sandler Center Spotlight Feature is with Ballet Virginia. I sat down with Janina Michalski and Suzanne Lownsbury, who are the Co-Artistic Directors. These amazing women have dedicated their lives to helping the local dance community evolve while focusing on skill and professionalism.

What is your mission statement, and how do you decide on a program that fulfills your mission statement? Janina: Our mission statement is fostering a lifelong passion for dance by nurturing the community and enriching their lives with educational programs and performances. This is accomplished through classes and through our productions that all have passion, love, and exploration.

What education programs are offered? Suzanne: We offer ballet classes starting from 18 months to adults as well as pointe, tap, jazz, contemporary, modern, hip hop, pilates, tumbling, and musical theatre. Janina: We also have been working with the public library this past summer to start offering library programs. We work with various schools when we have performances to get them free tickets to see the shows. We also offer adaptive dance classes for people with autism and various other needs. Right now we’re working on getting a dance class together for people with Parkinsons.

A ballerina leaps through the air on stage

What or who inspires/ influences your work? Janina: The kids. Suzanne: The passion for dance. Really both of those things and then we’re just so thankful to have each other to inspire each other during these challenging times.

What makes your work unique to our community, and why is that important? Suzanne: The arts are important to every community. It’s sad because when places are looking to cut budgets that’s the first thing they do is take arts out of schools. I think especially right now that’s what people need more than anything is that form of expression and escapism.

What adjustments has the virus caused to your schedule? Janina: Well, we immediately sent out tapings of the classes, and by the end of the week we had moved to Zoom classes. Suzanne: Right now we’re offering what we call “hybrid classes” where the green group will come in and the purple group’s classes are online. It’s been challenging, to say the least, but we’re still having a bunch of people reach out to us to start taking classes. Everyone has to wear masks when they come in, and their temperature is taken, so that we’re following all CDC guidelines. Janina: We also keep the students ten feet apart, which is really nice for a lot of them who had been doing the Zoom classes at home and their pets or siblings wanted to come into the frame. (Editor’s note: I assist with teaching martial arts classes, we went online for COVID, and some of my favorite zoom moments from the last few months were pet and sibling cameos.)

Male and female dancers in black leotards at rehearsal

In what ways are you being proactive for re-opening? Janina: We have plans A through Z right now because nobody really knows what’s happening and it’s changing all the time. We’re still planning our four week summer intensive, specialty programs, and yearly classes. We’re hoping to get our professional dancers back, and they’re being so patient and supportive. For our performances- we’ve talked about doing virtual performances for The Nutcracker, and potentially partnering with Toys for Tots so that people can buy toys and we can put them in the audience. A few years back we did a “Muttcracker” where we had dogs perform. Our main thing is that we want to keep people entertained and bring a smile to their faces. Suzanne: If nothing else, the 2020 Nutcracker experience will be truly unique.

Two dogs meeting at Muttcracker auditions

Image from Ballet Virginia’s Facebook Page of Muttcracker Auditions. Those puppies are SO CUTE!!

Are there any specific upcoming projects you would like people to know about? Suzanne: As of right now our potential projects include a collaboration with Symphonicity, Sleeping Beauty, that was supposed to be Spring of 2020 is now Spring of 2021, and a performance at the Zieder’s theatre in March.

Pairs of male and female dancers onstage, the males are balancing the women for a leg lift

Anything else you want to talk about? Suzanne: We’re a non-profit so it’s extremely important to us to have sponsors to help fund us, and corporate donors. We are so thankful to everyone who has helped us in our journey, and to those who can continue to help us. Janina: The important thing is that we aren’t going anywhere! I feel like being in the arts, you start out as a gypsy wandering and exploring your passions, and through that, develop a sense of survival to be able to continue to pursue those passions.

Where can people find you (for classes, donations, etc)?  Check out our website: Click here to make an individual donation, or here to become a corporate sponsor.

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