Ballet Virginia began as a dream of passing the gift of dance onto the next generation. Co-Artistic Directors Janina Michalski and Suzanne Lownsbury brought their dream to life in 2008 when they founded Ballet Virginia. Together with a handful of talented artists, including Lydia Roberts Coco and Lisa McCarty, along with many devoted parents, they began to grow a ballet academy in Norfolk from the ground up.
By the summer of 2019, Ballet Virginia had opened its second academy location in Virginia Beach and launched a full-time professional company. All of this was accomplished with the loving support of talented faculty and staff.
In the Beginning
Things weren’t always easy in the beginning. When Janina and Suzanne first set out on their own, they had to jump from location to location with all of the students in tow. They searched for spaces, danced in crowded places, and still managed to put up amazing shows.
They started the new academy with a summer intensive at the Harrison Opera House since the theater was dark for the summer. For a while, they held their classes at a gym and a local church. Dancers rolled out the Marley flooring out over the carpet and went to work. Finally, they got a break. The new ballet school was offered a permanent home in an old car dealership. Pigeons were living upstairs in the loft space, but that didn’t stop them.
With integrity, perseverance, and even sledgehammers in hand, Janina and Suzanne helped to turn the old building into a thriving ballet studio. Parents and staff worked side by side with a construction team to transform the abandoned space. Today the historic building houses five large dance studios, a wardrobe room, offices, and dressing rooms, and is the home to a thriving dance academy of over 400 students and a professional company.
Beyond the Academy
Ballet Virginia students are regularly accepted into nationally recognized summer training programs such as the School of American Ballet, American Ballet Theater, Boston Ballet, Houston Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, English National Ballet, Orlando Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Ballet West. They have received merit scholarships totaling well over $25,000.00 every year, and have gone on to accept employment with professional companies including Houston Ballet, Nevada Ballet Theater, and others.
Additionally, many of Ballet Virginia’s dancers have been accepted into top-level academic institutions both for dance and other disciplines. This is a testament to the holistic approach that Ballet Virginia takes toward dance education. Their graduates have received academic degrees from institutions like Penn State, the University of Virginia, and the College of William and Mary. They have also pursued artistic degrees from prominent universities such as Fordham, Brigham Young, and North Carolina School of the Arts.
Ballet Virginia is well respected in the Hampton Roads area for creating professional-quality performances. The professional company offers a full season of classical and contemporary dance. Our annual “The Nutcracker” is a holiday favorite with live orchestra from Symphonicity. In addition, the company performs a full-length ballet in the spring along with mixed repertoire performances in the fall and late winter.
Our second company, BVII, has the opportunity to perform with the company regularly. Many academy and community dance students have had the experience of performing in our full-length ballets.