Raising the Barre

Denver Ballet Guild instills students with a love for dance


MOVING FORWARD Chan Hon Goh teaches a Young Dancers Competition master class. Photo by Jamie Kraus Photography

One might wonder why the members of the Denver Ballet Guild don’t take the easy way out by hosting one big fundraiser a year and then mailing a check to a deserving dance company.

The answer is simple: It’s just not the way these 580 women roll.

When it comes to keeping the art of dance alive, the members of this 35-year-old, all-volunteer organization headed by Jean Armstrong prefer a bigger, more hands-on approach. In the last year alone, the guild:
• Helped nine nonprofit dance companies in the metro Denver area keep their doors open by awarding $85,000 in grants.
• Hosted, for the 20th year, Showcase of Dance, where, over a three-day period, 6,000 elementary school children, mostly from underserved neighborhoods, were transported to a local theater for live performances by area dance companies whose styles ranged from classical ballet to hip-hop. The event costs the guild $28,000 to produce.
• Treated an additional 1,500 youngsters to in-school performances by professional dancers, a project that costs the guild $4,000.
• Staged the annual Young Dancers Competition, an effort that involves $20,000 in production costs plus the $22,000 in scholarships given to the winners.

“Most of the children taking part in Showcase of Dance have never seen a live dance performance—or been inside a theater,” Armstrong says. “To me, it is one of the best things we do as a guild. The kids love it.”

The Young Dancers Competition is in its 35th year and is considered one of the best events of its kind in the nation. The director, Monica Hill, was named a Living Legend of Dance by the University of Denver’s Carson Brierly Giffin Dance Library in 2015.

“We fly in judges, a pianist and a master teacher from around the country because we want the kids who register (250 this year) to have the best, most authentic experience possible,” Armstrong says.

The bulk of the funding for these programs comes from Le Bal de Ballet, a gala honoring the achievements of college-bound high school seniors. This year’s event, to be held June 10, will honor 40 debutantes and 29 young men of distinction who will be presented on stage at Boettcher Concert Hall and then whisked off by limousine to the Sheraton Denver Downtown for dinner and dancing.

The honorees are selected based on their academic and leadership achievements, according to Armstrong, who notes that the class of 2017 includes one honoree who achieved a perfect score on the ACT test and another who is a National Merit Scholarship finalist.

Other fundraisers include annual fall and spring luncheons that feature a performance by a dance company that has received funding from the guild; Madams & Martinis, a cocktail party held at member Pamela Adams’ historic home; and A Taste for Dance, a wine tasting held in the fall.

In addition, the guild sponsors two dance-arts appreciation groups, Les Cygnettes and Les Demoiselles. The purpose of each is to introduce young women to the arts by taking them to dance performances and professional theater events. Membership in Les Cygnettes is open to girls in sixth through eighth grades; those belonging to Les Demoiselles are in high school. Former Le Bal de Ballet honorees are being encouraged to join a young professionals group that is just getting started. A kickoff event held over the holiday season attracted 100 potential members.

This year, Denver Ballet Guild was presenting sponsor for Colorado Ballet’s MasterWorks February performances of the master ballets “Firebird,” “Serenade” and “Petite Mort.” And, as it does every year, the guild also commissions Colorado Ballet to choreograph a brief performance tied to Le Bal de Ballet’s theme, which is “Carousel” this year.

Guild publicity chair Carol Binder seems to speak for the entire membership when she says: “I am so proud to be a part of something that has such a profound impact on Denver’s arts community. We’re definitely not the ladies who lunch.”

Dues: $75 per year for general membership; $150 for patron-level membership; $35 for young professionals; and $750 for a lifetime membership

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