By Shaina Ruth
Crying dancers, screaming parents, televised arguments, pyramid hierarchies, trophies won and lost; this is how dance studios have long been portrayed by the media to the general public. Television shows depicting toxic dance studio environments have shocked audiences and made children and parents wary of dance education for many years. While these portrayals are clearly striving for shock value and ratings, all too often the anger, pain, sadness, and intense competition seen in the dancers is very real. Thankfully, The Greenville Civic Ballet (GCB) has taken steps over the last 23 years to avoid such toxicity, and the students, parents, and instructors feel like part of a family when they enter the studio doors, instead of battling for the top of the pyramid. The Greenville Civic ballet is a business that empowers youth and young women as its staff is lead by and primarily composed of women.
With studio spaces located at 2285 and 2294 County Home Road in Greenville, Artistic Director Kimberly Gray-Saad, along with her trusted faculty and staff, strive day in and day out to bond the students together. Recently voted The Daily Reflector’s Best Small Business and Best Place to Take Your Children, a common instruction to GCB students is “Don’t compare yourself to others. The only person you need to be better than is the dancer you were yesterday.”
Years ago, faculty member and social media director Anna Brown started the “Dance Buddies of GCB” program. Each new dance season, every dancer is paired with another. They have cubbies to leave notes, or small gifts for their buddies. Anna organizes multiple mixers for all the students to come together in fellowship and play team-building games to get to know each other. Anna says the Buddy system “definitely bridges the gap between the older and younger dancers while they get to know each other on a deeper level. They know that they all have dance in common, but they learn about their other commonalities as well.”
For the students, GCB has become their extended family. 13 year old Andrew McGee says he’s definitely made some good friends dancing at GCB. It’s not uncommon for the more advanced students to spend 4-5 hours each night at the studio. They bring each other snacks for between classes, back each other up with extra band-aids, hair nets, or tights, and plan activities and outings with one another. They cheer on their friends setting out on auditions for summer intensives or colleges, and offer constructive feedback when asked.
16 year old Lexi Lozner began dancing at GCB at age 5. “I have had some of my best childhood memories in the studio. Each year brings new skills, improvement, new ballets, lots of performances, and I love every second of it!” The studio gives students unique performance opportunities throughout the year. Students often get the chance to perform at Greenville Gives, the local Christmas Parades, and Halftime performances at East Carolina University basketball games, in addition to its annual Spring Recitals. Likewise, recommended students have the opportunity to audition for the GCB sponsored Dance Collective, a pre-professional company which does performances of large productions every winter, in-house performances in the spring, as well as community outreach and dance festivals. GCB’s performances attract hundreds of visitors to the East each year adding to the economic impact of our area in the form of ticket and hotel room sales, while its ever-growing student body helps to create new GCB faculty opportunities.
In terms of instruction, GCB has been the leader in classical ballet training in Pitt County for over 20 years. Its current ballet faculty was trained by and performed with former New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and Atlanta Ballet stars, to name a few. Current student, 15 year old Emma Wood, sought out a new dance studio with a stronger classical base, knowing that she needed more classical training to be successful in all forms of dance. For Emma, the decision was an easy one. “I loved the overall feel of GCB. The environment was welcoming and filled with passion.” In addition to ballet training, GCB also offers the highest caliber instruction in Tap, Jazz, Contemporary, Hip Hop, and Musical Theatre. GCB students have gone on to perform professionally with the Atlanta Ballet, Kings Dominion, Ballet Magnificat!, Carolina Ballet, and many others. Former students are also practicing attorneys, nurses, and doctors. Additionally, many of its students, like ECU Freshman Marissa Miller, return post-grad to join GCBs faculty in order to maintain the high level of instruction and family feel they grew up with. Marissa says, “I was fortunate to grow up with amazing role models who taught me how to become a better dancer and, more importantly, a better person. I am so grateful to now gain the instructor’s perspective and see where this journey takes me.”
GCBs intimate camaraderie combined with extensive class options, along with our unique and exciting performance opportunities, is what makes our students want to return season after season, and what makes our dancers’ parents want to let them.
The Greenville Civic Ballet is located at 2285 County Home Road #B in Greenville. For more information about dance education and upcoming performances, call 252.355.7880 or visit www.GreenvilleCivicBallet.com.