Ballet Memphis receives $1.2 million pledge to expand company and broaden community student dance ed

June 18th, 2015

Expanded programs now known as ‘I Am:We Are’ Initiative    

MEMPHIS, TENN. (June 18, 2015) – – –  Ballet Memphis has received a $1.2 million pledge from an anonymous friend of the Ballet toward funding its “I Am:We Are” initiative. The gift builds on Ballet Memphis’ work and commitment to create a ballet company that reflects the community, and inspires diversity and inclusion in classical dance, nationally. 

The gift will be used to: expand Ballet Memphis’ recruiting program; grow the size of the professional company; strengthen the current pre-professional training program; sustain and enhance Ballet Memphis’ student dance programs; and broaden the Ballet Memphis School Scholarship program. 

The donation also comes as a result of the national recognition Ballet Memphis has received for its dedication to build racial and ethnic representation in America’s ballet companies, as championed by the work of Founding Artistic Director and CEO Dorothy Gunther Pugh. Pugh serves as Chair of the Artistic Directors’ Council for Dance/USA, including membership on the Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Committee; and as a partner in American Ballet Theatre’s Project Plié program to help mentor and recruit more diversity in the classical dance profession.   

The name of the initiative is inspired by the South African humanist philosophy of “Ubuntu,” popularized by The Most Rev. Desmond Tutu, Archbishop (Anglican) Emeritus of Cape Town. Ubuntu recognizes that all humanity is bound together, and that “my humanity is caught up and bound to yours.” Pugh first heard of Ubuntu through Artistic Associate and Company dancer Steven McMahon’s research into his piece for Ballet Memphis’ I Am mixed repertory show in February 2015.   

“We have built a professional dance company that reflects the world in which we live and dance and we have created a place at the table for those who want to be there,” Pugh said. “We recognize that the future of ballet companies relies on authentically reflecting and representing the community. This generous gift from a longtime Friend of the Ballet will allow us to redouble our efforts on training and supporting ballet students and professional dancers from communities previously underrepresented in professional ballet programs.”   

Currently, Ballet Memphis operates afterschool programs in partnership with Knowledge Quest in South Memphis and at the Leadership Empowerment Center in Frayser. More than 500 area youth receive dance education with Ballet Memphis through these community engagement efforts, which are led by Nikki Lewis, curriculum developer and teaching artist for Ballet Memphis.   

This year, Ballet Memphis received two national grants, one from Hearst Foundations and one from Dizzy Feet Foundation, in recognition and support of its existing afterschool programs.   

“Ballet Memphis has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to making the best of dance available to the Memphis community,” Mason Granger, director of grants for the Hearst Foundations in New York City, said in January 2015. “Funding dance training and providing quality afterschool dance programs in neighborhoods with need, Ballet Memphis helps to further the Hearst Foundations mission.”   

“We always have sought to create meaningful and impactful dance performances and programs in the Memphis community,” Pugh said, “and thanks to this generous gift Ballet Memphis will help continue to shape American classical dance.”