Forced to shut down in the spring of 2020, Los Angeles’ longest running and most celebrated Westside Ballet of Santa Monica has managed to persevere throughout the pandemic by offering over 40 online Zoom classes and limited, COVID-compliant, in-person classes.  Founded in 1967 by Yvonne Mounsey and Rosemary Valaire, the school is the cornerstone of the arts in the Santa Monica region, and now headed by Allegra Clegg, daughter of Ms. Mounsey, Westside Ballet continues to reach out to the community with a variety of classes, workshops and summer intensives.

Allegra Clegg - Executive Director/Owner of Westside School of Ballet - Photo courtesy of Westside School of Ballet

Allegra Clegg – Executive Director/Owner of Westside School of Ballet – Photo courtesy of Westside School of Ballet

The Artist Director of Westside Ballet is Martine Harley and Co-Associate Artistic Directors are Caprice Walker and Francine Kessler Lavac. The faculty consists of teachers with a broad experience performing with professional companies. Just a few of the past guest faculty include: Tiler Peck, Principle Dancer, New York City Ballet; Robert Fairchild, Principal Dancer, New York City Ballet; Joy Womack, Principal Dancer, Kremlin Ballet; Arkady Nikolaev, Director of Moscow Ballet and teacher of Stanislavski Method; Joan Boada, Principal Dancer, San Francisco Ballet; Arturo Fernandez, Ballet Master, Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet; Nicole Haskins, Sacramento Ballet, Washington Ballet, and Smuin Contemporary American Ballet; and Allynne Noelle, Suzanne Farrell Ballet, Los Angeles Ballet, and Barak Ballet.

Numerous alumni of the Westside Ballet continue on to enjoy illustrious professional careers. A few of them include: Monique Meunier (NYCB, ABT); Anna Liceica (ABT); Joy Womack (Bolshoi Ballet and Kremlin Ballet Theater); Martine Harley (Houston Ballet); Melissa Barak (NYCB, Los Angeles Ballet, Barak Ballet); Stayce Camparo (Kansas City Ballet); Andrew Veyette (NYCB); Francis Veyette (Pennsylvania Ballet); and Francine Kessler Lavac (Ballet West). Among the newest are: Adrian Blake Mitchell (Mikhailovsky Theatre); Shelby Tzung (National Ballet of Canada); Lucia Connolly (Joffrey Ballet); Molly Novak (Semperoper Ballett, Boston Ballet); Severina Wong (Ballet West); Giorgia Martelloni-Zabriskie (Dance Theater of Harlem); and Lyrica Brielle Blankfein who dances on Broadway in Anastasia the Musical.

Westside School of Ballet - Martine Harley center in white scarf mask - Photo by Todd Lechtick.

Westside School of Ballet – Martine Harley center in white scarf mask – Photo by Todd Lechtick.

The organization recently announced that it is continuing to “dance forward” celebrating its graduating class via an intimate workshop performance this month. The event is only for the family and friends of the performers and serve as a final bow for the seniors moving on to college or into a professional dance career. It will take place in the Westside School of Ballet’s newly enhanced black box, Theater Studio Six, and a filmed version will be released sometime early Summer. Spotlight selections will include solo pieces from beloved classics including Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and Don Quixote. Also included will be a Westside Ballet premiere of excerpts from Donizetti Variations with music by Gaetano Donizetti and original choreography by George Balanchine, to name a few.

This success story was made possible through sacrifice by all, hard work, thinking outside the box, and with the assistance of the Westside Ballet Volunteer Guild. With the help of local contractor Morley Builders, an outdoor dance studio was constructed in early Fall 2020, enabling classes to be held for all to see and “know that the beauty of dance and the arts would not be vanquished” – Westside Ballet press release.

Westside School of Ballet classes will continue to be offered at 50% occupancy until the LA County Covid Guidelines state that the school may open to full capacity; hopefully sometime in June 2021. The summer will also include new Summer Intensive programs that build on the schools excellent reputation by providing pre-professional career training or classes at all levels for anyone who wishes to simply experience the joy of dancing ballet.

Westside Ballet also managed to survive the pandemic with the aid of an ambitious campaign to raise $150,000. The funds were needed to help keep the ballet school and the dance studios open and operating with a minimal staff.  The money also allowed the school to purchase the latest technology in order to provide virtual instruction and maintain the connection between instructor and pupil.

“Thanks to the efforts of the “1500 Angels” Crisis Relief Campaign, almost $215,000 has been raised to date. The initial goal was set in anticipation of a three-month shutdown. As the pandemic enters its second, devastating year, the challenge has been reset to $350,000. The Board of Directors raised the goal so that the school will be able to operate and surpass its 54th year and persevere beyond these unpredictable times,” Westside Ballet press release.

The school will continue to offer adult and youth dance classes, summer sessions, children’s intermediate and advanced intensives, outreach classes, and to provide scholarships.  Westside Ballet and its school is one of LA’s dance treasures and it is heartening to see that it has managed to survive these dire times.

For more information please about Westside Ballet, please click HERE.

Below is a 9 minute video created to help with the fund raising campaign. It tells the story of Westside Ballet of Santa Monica.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Westside Ballet – dancer in photo, Zane Tahvildaran Jesswein – Photographer: Anne Slattery