Guests at the Sugarplum Tea created by Cleveland City Dance included dozens of families, budding ballet students, and those perhaps just becoming aware of the centuries-old art. The sold-out Tea held at the Shaker Country Club served several purposes. It was a friend and fundraiser, but also a preview-performance showcase for upcoming live performances of the Uniquely Cleveland Nutcracker. This Nutcracker, with a cast of 60 dancers and extras, is presented by the nonprofit troupe, City Ballet of Cleveland. Students from four local studios participate in the ballet.
Cleveland City Dance now has 250 students, ages three to older than 80. The school offers courses in ballet, jazz, modern, hip-hop, and strengthening and conditioning. Located at Shaker Square, the school was created in 1965 and has been run by Courtney Laves-Mearini for the last 20 years.
Laves-Mearini points to her own experience growing up in Houston in the 1960s when dance (and other arts courses) was part of the regular school curriculum. Budget cuts caused the end of most arts programs, while sports programs continued on a pay-to-play basis – a jarring inconsistency as she points out.
She describes how parents today are asking for more arts in their schools, but the
trick is to convince administrators of the value of a dance program. “More than one of my dancers is pursuing a career in engineering, math, and sciences,” she says. “This is because dance gives you focus and discipline and teaches you to organize your time.” Many of her students are now in college from Ohio State to Harvard and continue to dance and create choreography for student productions.
Laves-Mearini describes how many times a child has no idea they want to dance. “This is because so few children are exposed to live dance events now,” she says. “When we work in a school, we ask students how many have been to a live dance performance, and the result is maybe ten percent. But if your child is not a sports child, dance may be of interest to them, and it’s just a shame that for most students a dance
program isn’t an option currently.”
She describes how some students with talent and true passion receive the school’s limited scholarships. Sponsorships are available and Laves-Mearini sponsors several students herself. She acknowledges that attending classes (much less appearing in the Nutcracker) is a big-time commitment on the part of the dancer but also the parents. However, speaking from first-hand experience she says “For these kids, this [dance school] is their home away from home. I still have friends from my days as a student in Texas, and these classes – this is family for them. The people they dance with are a part of their lives forever. My oldest “child” dancer is in her 30s now and living in California, but we keep in touch. I also have a couple of second-generation students now. Also, former students are now board members.” It’s easy to see how the dance lifestyle is as life-affirming and as bonding as any sports-related endeavor.
For information on dance classes go to cityballetofcleveland.org
Recent alumni of City Ballet of Cleveland continue on to work as dance professionals and students including:
■ Olivia Mian, a trainee with BalletMet (Columbus, OH).
■ Shane Williams who was accepted into the School of American Ballet Training program last year. In June 2023 (at age 17) he became an apprentice with the New York City Ballet.
■ Henry Harte, a second year student in Butler University’s Dance Program.
■ Adrienne Chan a third year student at Harvard University where she continues to dance, choreograph, and perform along with a rigorous academic schedule.
■ Spencer Waldeck, a company member of Ballet Tucson.
■ Diana Yohe, a soloist with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.
STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY RITA KUEBER