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Dance school secures a prime new location

Bill DeYoung



New partners: Markus Gottschlich and Suzanne Pomerantzeff. Photo provided.

St. Petersburg’s Academy of Ballet Arts has turned a significant corner. Through an agreement with the Warehouse Arts District Association (WADA), the nonprofit dance school will be based at the Pruitt Arts Education Center, in the ArtsXChange building on 22nd Street S. Students will be surrounded by art studios, galleries and performing arts.

“This is the dream I had when I moved to St. Pete,” says director Suzanne Pomerantzeff. “It took a little while to get here, but I feel like what students will get out of the program is just expanded from what I thought I could do 54 years ago.

“I’m just so excited to get started.”

Pomerantzeff co-founded the Academy of Ballet Arts in 1969; thousands of young people trained there, many going on to professional dance careers. The school changed locations four times over the decades.

Last year Hal Freedman, the school’s landlord since 2002, announced his intention to sell the building, at 2914 1st Avenue N. Although he gave his prize tenant a broad window of time to secure a new location, the decision was firm. “There just isn’t anything that’s available that’s affordable,” Pomerantzeff, in search mode, told the Catalyst in November, as the company was preparing for its annual Palladium Theater production of The Nutcracker.

RELATED READING: Pointe taken: Suzanne Pomerantzeff is St. Pete’s ballet mistress

Things were getting dicey as year’s end approached. “The last place we saw was in terrible shape,” Pomerantzeff says. “It would have taken tons of money to make it acceptable. But it was the closest we came. And in the end, the owner decided to use it for his own devices, so that was another no.”

Then came WADA. Ironically, the midwife here was landlord Freedman, who introduced Pomerantzeff to the organization’s director Markus Gottschlich, and encouraged her to hear what he had to say.

“We invited her to come out and check out WADA during the Second Saturday ArtWalk,” Gottschlich explains. “And she immediately sensed the buzz, and the power of the creative community there. And her current place is next to a pizzeria.”

The Pruitt building already had a mirrored dance studio with a sprung floor, installed just a year or two ago, which appealed to Pomerantzeff. And the ongoing expansion of the building itself will dovetail nicely with the needs of the 100-student Academy of Ballet Arts. A performing arts stage was recently installed; a kitchen will go in soon.

A second dance studio is being planned – “we’re tripling the dance space in our education building to make this work,” Gottschlich says. “At the end of the day, she’s going to have dance space somewhere between 3,200 and 4,000 square feet.”

Even more important to Pomerantzeff – she hit it off with WADA personnel.

“They just wined and dined us,” she says. “And it was incredible – the kinds of questions they asked me was not what I was worth financially, not how many students I had. It was, what was my philosophy about education in arts for the child? And what were my programs for reaching out to the South Side? Who was I as a teacher, and what was the school representing?

“It was thrilling to be asked about that – instead of the assumption that you’re in it for the business.”

“She’s a nonprofit, and I like what this says about a nonprofit moving into the facility of another,” says Gottschlich. “So it’s really a collaboration.”

Suzanne Pomerantzeff and Academy of Ballet Arts instructor Daniel Johnson, with students at the March 11 Second Saturday ArtWalk in the Warehouse Arts District. Photo: Markus Gottschlich.

The new arrangement begins April 1, and all parties are raring to go. At the March 11 ArtWalk, Academy students rehearsed in the new studio, giving everyone in attendance an idea of what this new community will look like.

“Their parents had a chance to explore the whole Warehouse Arts District,” Pomerantzeff says. “The kids joined in a drum circle, and they danced up on the stage. They just were in their element. Not inside of four walls.”

The parents, Gottschlich says, could see the difference in their kids. “The immediately saw that there’s a lot more to do than just getting in your car and driving home.”

So call it a win-win. “It gives us a visibility that we’ve always sort of had to fight for – that the Academy is not like a private, inbred kind of school,” Pomerantzeff says. “And it opens up a whole world for my kids.”














Daniel Johnson



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