I can highly recommend Berkeley City Ballet as both a parent and a former ballet dancer. I was one of the original dancers in BCB when it was formed more than 30 years ago and I danced in the first productions of their Nutcracker. When my 7 year-old daughter expressed an interest in ballet, I took her there to take class. What immediately impressed me was the way Elizabeth Godfrey, the Artistic Director, both supported the kids but also let them know she had high expectations for them. I felt this was still a serious and healthy place for a child to develop the technique that could either lead to a professional career or a strong foundation in dance.
Now at 16 years old, my daughter is still dancing at BCB. She has received personal attention from experienced teachers and the training is excellent. When she goes to auditions for national summer dance programs, she has been very prepared. She has had the opportunity to perform in 8 Nutcracker productions, as well as annual Spring Concerts and summer performances. BCB's Nutcracker is a professional full-length production: the sets and costumes are lovely and the dancers are well rehearsed. Dancing in a ballet of this caliber is life changing for all these young girls and teenagers. And much of this is due to the personal attention that Ms. Godfrey gives to their dancing and all the production details. After seeing the San Francisco Ballet Nutcracker this year, I can actually say that BCB's Act I was as good, if not better.
What is particularly impressive about BCB is how the value of teamwork is instilled in these dancers. Ballet is a highly individualistic and competitive art form and yet productions are not successful unless the company members work together. The corps de ballet must look like one body, moving together, for the right effect. My daughter's fast costume change from Act 1 to Act 2 will only work if an experienced girl helps her get from one dress into another. Older girls are encouraged to help younger girls--allowing the group to reach its maximum potential.
BCB also offers classes for dancers who just want to do it recreationally. Watch any of the big dance shows--"So You Think You Can Dance" or "Dancing With the Stars" and the Judges are always saying that ballet training is at the foundation of any good technique.
American culture is not always attentive to what it takes to support and nurture the arts. Companies like BCB keep training these young dancers and produce high quality productions like the Nutcracker. But, unlike a large ballet school, BCB accomplishes its goals in a much more supportive and healthy environment. Despite the hard work, the girls really enjoy their time there. They make friends for a lifetime. BCB is an asset not only to the girls and families that participate in their program, but to the entire community.
Former Deputy District Attorney to Berkeley
Chief of Staff to the Mayor of Berkeley
and Speechwriter for the Chancellor of UC Berkeley