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 launched what would become the premier center for ballet in the Hampton Roads region. Together with a handful of talented artists and 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. Everyone at Ballet Virginia shares a passion for ballet and a commitment to integrity.
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 their students in tow. They searched for spaces, danced in crowded places, and still managed to put up amazing shows. This was an example of leadership and teaching from the heart at its finest.
Suzanne and Janina launched their new academy with a summer intensive at the Virginia Opera since the house was dark for the summer. Thereafter, they held their classes at a gym and even an Episcopal Church. Dancers rolled the marley out over the carpet, kept focused, and went to work. Finally, they got a break. The new ballet school was offered a permanent home in an old car dealership. There were pigeons living upstairs in the loft space, but that didn’t stop them.
With integrity, perseverance, and even sledgehammers in hand, Janina and Suzanne personally transformed an old, unused car dealership into a thriving ballet studio. Parents and staff worked side by side with a construction team to transform the abandoned space. Today the building houses four large dance studios, a pilates room, wardrobe room, offices and dressing rooms, and is the home to a thriving dance academy of over 400 students and a professional company.
Leadership From the Heart
The success of Ballet Virginia can be attributed to intelligent leadership and a series of brave choices. The Artistic Directors immediately dove into residence at The Sandler Center for the Performing Arts upon formation and were able to present their first performance there by the Fall of the same year. The ultimate goal of bringing dance to the Hampton Roads community was never forgotten or put on the back burner for any reason or challenge.
The Directors played music from a van and choreographed ballets in the parking lot when there was no rehearsal space available. They taught ballet and modern classes side by side in the same room when they only had one studio space. Nothing stopped them from building their dream. One of their favorite memories was when a dancer exclaimed: “I can keep going!” during a rehearsal in the brand new upstairs hall when there was finally room to move and really dance.
Beyond the Academy
Ballet Virginia students have been regularly accepted to elite 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 in every year, and have gone on to accept employment with prestigious companies such as Houston Ballet.
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 education. Their graduates have received academic degrees from institutions like Penn State, 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.
Performances in the Community
Ballet Virginia is well respected in the Hampton Roads area for putting on high caliber, professional-quality performances. After eleven seasons of The Nutcracker and their Spring Storybook Ballets such as Sleeping Beauty, many community members have made these productions annual traditions. We are the only local resident ballet company presenting such annual shows, and many members from our community are involved – even beyond the students from our academy.
Ballet Virginia regularly brings in professional guest artists to perform alongside our academy dancers and we have been honored to host soloists from American Ballet Theater, Washington Ballet, Ballet West, Dance Theater of Harlem, and other notable companies. Our roster of guest artists has always been impressive and inspirational for our younger generation of performers. We are thrilled that three of our guest artists will be joining Ballet Virginia as full-time company members in our brand new professional company in the Fall of 2019. We also partner with Symphonicity to provide live orchestral music for our larger productions.
Ballet Virginia is a member of the Regional Dance America Southeast, which strives to uphold excellence standards in instruction, choreography, performance, and production, and also provides networking opportunities for staff and educational and scholarship opportunities for dancers and choreographers. Ballet Virginia upholds and exceeds these standards for the benefit of the Hampton Roads community.