A local ballet company gets a new, young audience on their feet

Call it “Ballet in a Box.”

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  • Written by
    Amber Klinck
  • Photographed by
    Nancy Pastor

Francesca Stern, the owner and artistic director of Dance 1 in Redondo Beach, believes dancing is a privilege. “I really feel blessed to dance,” she says. “And I think a lot of our dancers are very lucky to dance—especially when you go around the world and see how other people are living.”

So Francesca decided to create a program that would enable her to open the world of dance to more people—and maybe make it a privilege more people can enjoy. “It’s called Ballet in a Box,” she says.

“We have fun, and we hope that trickles down.”

With the help and enthusiasm of her students, Francesca and her team put together items they need to both instruct and perform on-the-go. “We take a box that the girls decorate, and inside the box are leotards, tights, shoes, costumes for the dancers and music,” Francesca explains. “Then our dancers teach a portion of the ballet, we perform alongside them and then we leave them with the box.”

The program is in its infancy, and it’s already making quite an impact. “I think the best thing was our experience in Belize,” Francesca says. “The place itself is pretty tough. I asked the director, ‘What’s your hardest thing, teaching the girls?’ She said, ‘I only have from 3:00 to 5:00 every day, because the city is so dangerous … they can’t be out after that.”

Initially Francesca and her students were greeted with reluctance from the young dancers at the Belize studio, but before long the walls came down. “They were singing on the bus and exchanging social media,” co-artistic director Donna Perkins notes. “Look what we can do for the world,” Francesca adds. “When all the barriers go down, [we’re] just dancers.”

After more than 30 years of teaching dance, Francesca still exudes an optimistic passion for her craft. And her energy is felt throughout the Dance 1 studio. “We always talk about experience,” Donna says. “We want it to be positive, we want it to be nurturing and we want it to be respectful. We feel like [the students] will thrive better.”

With dancers energetically buzzing around the studio, the environment emanates positivity. But Francesca is quick to point out that while the culture at Dance 1 is filled with support and encouragement, there is also a great deal of dedication and hard work. “We’re still demanding. Our dancers are taught all that lovely classical history of respect and respect for the art, and that you’re very lucky to do it. We are nurturing, but when it’s time to get to work you’re going to get to work.”

Born from the Dance 1 studio, Francesca started the Redondo Ballet Company in 2014. Now a nonprofit, the Redondo Ballet Company began with 10 dancers. Today there are 50, so the acceleration has been incredible.

In order to continue the program and expand the reach of Ballet in a Box, Francesca and her team hope to acquire more funding through corporate sponsorships, community fundraising and grants.

In addition to Belize, Ballet in a Box has been introduced to St. Columbkille School in South Los Angeles, as well as schools in Long Beach and Redondo. “The next one is hopefully going to be in Mexico,” Donna says. Francesca adds, “And then a Native American reservation in Montana.”

Of course funding largely dictates their outreach, but both Francesca and Donna are keeping the momentum going. “And we have a blast together,” Francesca says. Donna agrees: “We have fun, and we hope that trickles down.”