Life behind barres: Dancing into the hearts of Middle Tennessee with the Nashville Ballet

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Nashville Ballet became an official company in 1986. Today, it is the largest professional ballet company in Tennessee.

It all began in 1974 when a small group of dancers opened up a studio in the Green Hills area. They offered ballet and other dance classes to the public, including many Opryland USA theme park performers.

From 1981-1985, six teenagers from the Dancers Studio created The Young Dancers’ Concert Group, a performance group lead by Jane Fabian, a native Nashvillian who taught at Dancers Studio.

The group rehearsed at donated space downtown and performed in 1981 at TPAC’s Polk Theater. After several productions, the group evolved into Nashville City Ballet, a regional performance group.

In 1986, Nashville City Ballet transformed into a professional performance company that hired its first artistic director, Dane LaFontsee.

In 1987, Nashville City Ballet officially changed its name to Nashville Ballet. The non-profit partners with more than 40 K-12 schools, inspiring thousands of students through educational dance programs. They see generations of talent come and go. Some, like Paul Vasterling, began as a dancer with the company in 1989.

“I literally thought I’d live here for two years. And then 30 plus years later… here I am,” said Vasterling.

He discovered his passion for the arts at a young age. In 1998, he was named the Artistic Director of the Nashville Ballet.

“It was really love at first sight for me and dance and ballet. I was like wow.. this is really what I want to do. It was intellectually challenging, physically and of course, involved music,” he said.

Now, his original works are used in the Nashville Ballet’s shows. He works with many talented performers, including company dancer Mollie Sansone.

“We are such a multifaceted organization to.. we work with children, singer-songwriters, we work with visual artists, I think art is such a way of life, it’s why we are here on earth,” said Sansone.

She isn’t just a performer, she is also an instructor. Sansone teaches students in the Martin Center for the Nashville Ballet, a customized facility serving as a home to dancers, students, and offices.

“It’s really fulfilling now to see your students grow up. There’s actually a company dancer now, I taught her when she was probably 12. And she’s in the company and she’s dancing with me now,” she explained.

Students practice ballet in pointe shoes. They’re an essential tool for the art produced by the Nashville Ballet. They’re custom-made by hand and cost about $75 dollars each, lasting less than a week. Sansone said the right equipment is crucial but using her own experiences in class can truly help the students grow.

“It’s like getting to that real raw level with them so then they feel, it is a foreign language to the human body we are trying to make it do crazy things. But if you can relate to them… To me, as a dancer now. This is hard for me to, let’s learn together,” Sansone explained.

Those learning opportunities are thanks to funding from grants through The Metro Nashville Arts Commission, The Tennessee Arts Commission, and The National Endowment for the Arts. The funds make it possible to bring shows to life, something Vasterling and Sansone say brings the community together.

“When you’re in a theater experiencing these amazing athletes or artists doing these amazing things, there is a connection that happens between us, that’s the most important thing,” said Vasterling.

“Adding that emotional level on top of the movement, I just feel like you can speak more loudly to more people in different ways with your body than just with your words. It’s amazing. It truly is,” explained Sansone.

Paige Atwell, Public Relations Manager, told News 2 the Nashville ballet will perform Peter Pan in October and the Nutcracker in December.

  • PETER PAN OCTOBER 8-10, 2021
  • NASHVILLE’S NUTCRACKER DECEMBER 15-24, 2021
  • ATTITUDE FEBRUARY 11-20, 2022
  • LUCY NEGRO REDUX MARCH 19-26, 2022
  • FAMILY DAY AT THE BALLET APRIL 24, 2022

To learn more about buying tickets for the shows, click here.

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