Oklahoma City Ballet: More than just The Nutcracker

By: Eddie Roach, NEWSOK

Oklahoma City Ballet is in the midst of its 2018-2019 season with The Nutcrackerperformances at the Civic Center Music Hall from Dec. 14-23.

However, the organization known for spectacular performances and beautiful dancers en pointe wants everyone to know it is also making an impact beyond performances by the professional company.

Outreach coordinator and former professional dancer, Stephanie Pitts, facilitates the relationships between Oklahoma City Ballet and the groups of students and seniors who benefit weekly from these free classes.

“Oklahoma City Ballet boosts extensive outreach efforts that touch people of all ages, from children to seniors,” said Stephanie Pitts, Oklahoma City Ballet Outreach Coordinator. Providing six different outreach programs in central Oklahoma, the Ballet is proving what they accomplish off stage is just as important.

“All of Oklahoma City Ballet’s programs serve a purpose beyond teaching children and seniors ballet,” Pitts said.

“The classes provide a sense of community and support in a fun atmosphere with teachers who really care about their students. It may be the one thing they are looking forward to that day, a place for them to forget about the troubles of daily life, and it allows them to express themselves through movement.”

Through Project Plie, Oklahoma City Ballet provides professional ballet training on-site at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Oklahoma County. The program aims to increase ethnic diversity among ballet dancers and actively support young dancers who may not otherwise have access to training.

“Many students from this program have been identified over the past five years to attend The Oklahoma City Ballet Yvonne Chouteau School on scholarship, where they are able to train more seriously and even perform with the professional company in productions like The Nutcracker,” Pitts said.

Another program offered by Oklahoma City Ballet, Dance for Parkinson’s, in partnership with Parkinson’s Foundation of Oklahoma, is a bi-weekly class held at the Susan E. Brackett Dance Center. This program provides opportunity for those with Parkinson’s to work on balance and mobility in addition to providing a fun, social atmosphere.

Erica Portell, Oklahoma City Ballet faculty member, attended specialized training in Brooklyn, New York, in order to properly teach the Dance for Parkinson’s class in Oklahoma City.

“To me what is so unique about this approach is that it’s not ‘watered down’ or condescending,” said Portell of the classes.

“There isn’t a dynamic of ‘you are a patient – let’s use dance to try and fix you.’  It respects that these people are grown adults with long, rich life experiences to draw from and to contribute. I would say a better description of the dynamic is ‘You Have Parkinson’s. And you are here as a dance student.’”

Through a unique program called BalletReach, young students are being introduced to the art of dance and movement at their schools. Oklahoma City Ballet provides teachers to 14 Oklahoma schools for free dance classes at no cost to the school district.

“It is important for Oklahoma City Ballet to give back to the community that has supported us for nearly 50 years,” said Jo Lynne Jones, John Kirkpatrick Executive Director.

“The best way to encourage and grow the arts in Oklahoma City is to provide a way for students to participate,” Jones said.

“With arts funding in schools slashed to a minimum, it is necessary that organizations like ours step in to fill the gap.”

Other programs include ArtsReach, Ballet Kids Club and Golden Swans.

Oklahoma City Ballet is passionate about giving back to the community that has supported it for so many decades. Artistic Director, Robert Mills, knows this to be true firsthand.

“Thanks to the support of Oklahomans, we were able to persevere and emerge as one of Oklahoma’s premier arts organizations,” Mills said.

“Because we were supported then, we feel it’s our duty to make sure we continue the good will.”

While most would consider ticket sales to be the bulk of Oklahoma City Ballet’s revenue, it is donors who keep the lights on and help make these kinds of programs possible year-round.

Oklahoma City Ballet’s Development Director, Whitney Moore, works to maintain existing donor relationships and cultivate new ones for the organization.

“So many people know Oklahoma City Ballet for our beautiful productions and world-class school,” Moore said.

“What they don’t know is we are in the community impacting over 5,000 individuals each year. All community outreach programs are free for participants, schools and teachers. Oklahoma City Ballet relies on the generous supports from our donors to sustain these important projects.”

The largest annual fundraiser for Oklahoma City Ballet, Ballet Ball, is a black-tie gala which provides funding for these outreach programs.

“Ballet Ball is more than a fun party for Oklahoma City Ballet,” Moore said.

“It’s our largest fundraiser that provides critical funds for our community programs, and also exposes many new people to the art of ballet. There is not another fundraiser in OKC where you can watch a beautiful performance on stage, then join them on the dance floor that night. The Ballet Ball is the most fun way to support Oklahoma City Ballet.”

This year’s Ballet Ball will take place on April 6, 2019. Tickets will be available in February 2019. You can find more information online at okcballet.org/balletball.

For more information on Oklahoma City Ballet’s outreach efforts and how you can contribute to these programs, you can visit their website at okcballet.org/outreach.