photos provided courtesy of Photos Chateau de Raray photos, Raray France with NSB/Stacey Chicoine
The Northeast School of Ballet, home of the Northeast Youth Ballet, located in Reading, MA, and led by Artistic Director Denise Cecere, is one of many not-for-profit arts organizations that have been devasted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shutdowns have forced cancelations of their spring season performances and classes and have resulted in substantial loss of revenue for the school. The school is about to enter its 50th year of training dancers, but the pandemic may force its closure if enough funds are not raised to support the non-profit.
The Northeast School of Ballet (www.northeastyouthballet.org) provides programs for all levels, from as young as three years old in creative movement classes to advanced level training for career-oriented dancers. The Conservatory at NSB (https://www.northeastyouthballet.org/nsbs-conservatory/) is a program designed for select individuals, ages 12 to 20, who are at a crucial point in their development. This advanced level of training allows a young female or male artist the opportunity to mature before entering the inevitable challenges of professional careers and higher education in dance (see Conservatory video here: https://www.facebook.com/169238349767854/videos/589699318221447/).
Conservatory students participate in daily classes for a total of 27 hours of instruction during the week Monday through Saturday. The curriculum provides a comprehensive dance education focusing primarily on classical ballet and other forms of dance such as pointe, partnering, classical variations, repertoire, modern, contemporary, jazz, ballroom, tap, improvisational skills, Pilates, yoga, cross-training, and men’s virtuoso technique for dedicated young male dancers (video: https://www.facebook.com/169238349767854/videos/2211381448886857/).
The school believes it imperative to have a healthy environment for all participants. As such, the program works closely with faculty and staff to support the educational, emotional, and physical demands placed on young dancers during these formative years of study. The Conservatory Program requires an intense concentration and dedication to daily training and rehearsals, in addition to supporting the dancers’ academic schedules. The program’s academic mentor helps with academic online studies. The dancers follow a daily schedule from 8:30am-5:00pm.
Northeast School of Ballet has developed a national and international presence. For over 30 years the school has participated in cultural exchange programs and performed both at home and abroad. NSB believes exposing young dancers to other organizations both at home and abroad not only broadens their education and interest in dance but creates a sense of unity that helps them understand how powerful the arts can be in developing relationships, building community, healing and breaking down the fear of differences in our society. (see video here: https://www.facebook.com/169238349767854/videos/2106604676031202/).
The school and company (Northeast Youth Ballet) provide performance opportunities for dancers in the greater Boston area. Open auditions are held for children 6 to 18 from over 35 different cities and towns for their annual Nutcracker ballet at the J. Everett Collins Center for the Performing Arts in Andover. In addition to the holiday classic, the students participate in several other performance opportunities throughout the year, including collaborating with The Boston Musica Viva at the Tsai Center in Boston. During the annual collaboration, dancers perform with work world-class musicians and dance to live music (video: https://www.facebook.com/169238349767854/videos/2083607594997577/). In addition, the trainees are fortunate to be able to perform ballets by award-winning choreographers. Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, famed (now retired) Etoile dancer of the Paris Opera Ballet and New York City Ballet, has set ballets on the Conservatory students. Mr. Bonnefoux sought out to work with the Northeast School of Ballet after seeing the caliber of its students at national auditions (see video here:https://www.facebook.com/169238349767854/videos/1950683491906748/) and he plans to join the faculty of NSB in September 2020 to coach the next generation of dancers.
The high-quality training at Northeast School of Ballet is evident as the students from the school are accepted into the most prestigious, audition-only, summer dance training programs each year. Students attend programs at The Paris Opera Ballet (France), The Royal Ballet (England), The Royal Danish Ballet (Denmark), The National Ballet of Canada (Canada), The School of American Ballet (NYC), The Chautauqua Institution (NY), American Ballet Theater, (NYC), San Francisco Ballet (CA), and Pacific Northwest Ballet (WA), Miami City Ballet (FL), The Harid Conservatory (FL), Houston Ballet (TX) and many more. Even more telling is that many of the school’s graduates go on to professional careers in dance or to highly selective performing arts colleges and universities.
Board member, Erika Wolf, and parent of three children who dance in the school says that the “Northeast School of Ballet is a lifeline to many young dancers who have discovered a passion for ballet early in life and who find that dance allows them to express themselves, find their centers, and nurture their souls. This ballet school is truly unique in that the faculty is first-rate and they produce well-trained dancers. The director and the faculty also have incredible passion. They love their students and they are connected to each of them. That is a rare combination to find both high-quality training and heart.”
The school has humble beginnings, founded in 1971 by Sandra McNaught (Cecere’s mother), in the living room of her family’s home. Mrs. McNaught began teaching neighborhood children the art of ballet while at home raising her three young children. Her daughter, Denise Cecere, began directing the school and company in 1996. The school was in Melrose for 41 years until they purchased the beautiful historic church in Reading Center. The facility is a beautiful home for young dancers. Students take classes in beautifully renovated air-conditioned studios that feature sprung floors and high ceilings. The Church, built-in 1913, is a registered historical building with Neo-Gothic architecture, including European inspired carved word work, beautiful stained glass windows, and a traditional arched cathedral sanctuary.
However, the shutdown caused by COVID-19 has meant that the dancers aren’t looking to the stained glass for inspiration anymore. Instead, the students of the school are isolated in their homes, on a small square of dance space, as they participate in the school’s classes over Zoom to maintain their technique, flexibility, and close connections to each other. “The students are incredibly disappointed that their spring performance season was canceled, as was a planned Exchange Program in Florida to perform Sleeping Beauty with the Florida Ballet,” Ms. Cecere explained. “When NSB was forced to close, we quickly provided online virtual instruction to our students to keep them motivated, engaged, and dancing. It is not an ideal set up for dancers that need space to move. They are limited to small areas in their homes and coping with sometimes insufficient wifi on their computer or phone. However, watching them take their daily Zoom classes, is an example of perseverance, hard work, passion, and discipline the training instills. They inspire me! Our faculty and students miss each other dearly and I wish I had the answers to all their questions of when we will be together again. There is much uncertainty that exists entering the 2020-2021 school year, but, I’m remaining hopeful that our school can survive this, with support, to provide the stability and nurturing environment needed to give to our young artists moving forward as it has for almost 50 years.”
The Northeast School of Ballet is seeking donations to help keep the school open as they try to plan for the upcoming year in which it is not clear if and when the school will be able to open or if performances will be allowed. The school is currently developing on-line contingency plans for its popular summer dance intensive if the state does not allow the program to run in person this summer. Individuals interested in helping to save the ballet school can send a tax-deductible donation to the school at Northeast School of Ballet, 32 Lowell St., Reading, MA 01867. Donations can also be made via PayPal at https://www.northeastyouthballet.org/individual-giving/. “We are incredibly humbled and thankful for the kind words and support of our NSB family and the Reading community over the past 8 weeks. NSB hopes to be able to continue its programs for the next generation of dancers and greatly appreciates any donation of any size to help us do so,” said Ms. Cecere.
The school’s website is: https://www.northeastyouthballet.org/ and you can also find out more about the school on social media at: https://www.facebook.com/Northeast-School-of-Ballet-169238349767854/ and https://www.instagram.com/northeastschoolofballet/
You can hear the dancers talk about what ballet and the school mean to them in their own words and see the dancers rehearse and perform in these videos and others on the school’s social media sites: