By Angela Higginbotham
Known for outstanding Nutcracker performances in Jacksonville, The Florida Ballet is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Founded in 1978, the original purpose of The Florida Ballet was to bring dance and performances to the greater Jacksonville area strictly as a performance company. Due to the recession and not enough funding, other ideas were introduced to help the ballet thrive. Teaching was soon implemented and The Florida Ballet became a perfect place for ballet instruction.
With the focus of training professional dancers, The Florida Ballet moved to its current home located at 300 E. State St. in 2004 and they now have a satellite location in Mandarin.
In 2007, The Florida Ballet was awarded a grant from the Weaver Family Foundation for the purpose of meeting urgent financial needs. The grant was directed toward different areas within the ballet. Scholarships in the professional training program for talented students with financial needs benefited from the grand and the additional part was directed toward strengthening the administrative support staff to create a strong future for The Florida Ballet.
“We have a training center mostly made up of kids that come after school for classes,” said Executive Director Martha Lemire. “We also have a conservatory program for students hoping for a career in dance. It’s an intense, five days a week training schedule. Those students take online classes for school. Our graduate program is for students that have completed high school.
The Florida Ballet currently enrolls approximately 300 students, has four full time staff members and seven teachers.
“Being a small organization, everyone wears multiple hats. We’ve been here 40 years and many people have never heard of it, but it’s a really special place,” Lemire said.
The ballet is constantly growing in community outreach, being of service to those with disabilities, expanding the after school enrichment program and working with the symphony. Currently, special efforts are being made to involve men in dance. Schools are becoming more involved to expose arts into inner city areas. There are currently six schools in Jacksonville breaking the bearer for boys in dance.
The Florida Ballet is celebrating its 40th year with special performances. In addition to the annual “Nutcracker” performances, “La Boutique Fantasque and Other Works” was performed for several audiences in October and “Alice In Wonderland” will be performed in the spring.
Visit www.floridaballet.org for tickets and class information.
Photo courtesy Debra Heuskin