This piece was originally published in the Winter 2016-2017 issue of Our Jackson Home: The Magazine.
As I walked into the bustling and brightly colored waiting room of Pat Brown’s dance studio, I was immediately hit by a rush of memories from my days in leotards and tights. I heard the combinations being called out with extreme zeal in the studio, an extremely familiar sound for the sixty dancers who make up the Ballet Arts of Jackson troupe. The older group of dancers were hard at work rehearsing a routine to Thriller for a Halloween event while younger girls peeked in from the hallway. The Ballet Arts performance season has just kicked off for the year and will soon be hard at work to bring Jacksonians their annual Christmas production of The Nutcracker and other shows throughout the year.
I got the chance to sit down with Pat Brown Seltzer and talk about the past, present, and future of Ballet Arts. She told me a tale of a dream she had to bring young dancers in West Tennessee a more authentic and professional experience for ballerinas. Thus Ballet Arts was born thirty-five years ago. Though the performances, shows, costumes, and sets have changed dramatically through the years, the mission has remained the same. Their growth and expansion has been an amazing addition to the art scene in Jackson and the surrounding areas. Their first year, the audience was about thirty moms, and now they have thousands in the audience every night of their productions.
As the years passed, they have been able to raise their standards of performance and budget. The Ballet Arts support network of parents has grown as well. Pat’s title is Artistic Director, which involves overseeing and choreographing pieces of the productions, but the rest of the administration, costuming, and dancer’s service is provided by parents and community volunteers.
This year a new opportunity to support individual students in the form of financial assistance has become available. One can now contribute to the purchase of pointe shoes for the dancers. Because Ballet Arts’ rigorous program prepares students for professional dancing, they use resources at a faster rate than a typical studio. One example of this is the dancers’ use of pointe shoes. Due to the way that pointe shoes are made and function on the foot, a pointe solo dancer could dance through several pair during a single show season. Pointe shoes are extremely expensive, but there is truly no substitute for the right pair. To make them more available, Ballet Arts has begun to set up stipends to help aid families in the investment of pointe shoes for their dancer. Donors can contribute to this fund as a separate giving option on the Ballet Arts website.
During my visit I also got to talk with Kayla, a sixth-year student with Ballet Arts, about her experience and her passion for dance. Her favorite show was Alice in Wonderland, where she played the caterpillar, a very free and laid back and simply cool role. Her favorite aspect of Ballet Arts has been getting to know and mentor the younger dancers. She loves being able to see them succeed and walk through new things with them.
Pat assured me that this year’s production of The Nutcracker will be beautiful as ever. The show is now in its thirty-fifth year, making it the longest running production in Tennessee, per the Arts Commission. We reminisced about their spring shows in past years and discussed their upcoming production of Coppelia, a story ballet that is incredibly vivid and captivating. Kayla said it best when she told me what she felt the purpose of Ballet Arts is. She said that Ballet Arts is meant to allow students to dance and tell a story. It is to give back to a community that supports them so well and to encourage audiences to use their imagination to make a story for themselves out of movement.
Natalie Pflasterer is a young Jackson native who spends her time helping out at Jackson Escape Rooms. She is a freshman at Union University.
Originally from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, photographer Katie Howerton moved to Jackson in 2011 to study Graphic Design and Drawing at Union University. She discovered Our Jackson Home in January 2015 and used it as a guinea pig for her senior design project, creating the first issue of Our Jackson Home: The Magazine. After graduating she was given leadership over Our Jackson Home at theCO, where she now runs the blog, designs the magazine, and coordinates events. She and her husband Jordan live in Midtown and are active members of City Fellowship Baptist Church.