Alexandria, VA – Ken and Kathy Fredgren founded Arlington Center for Dance on Wilson Boulevard in 1981. In its 40th year of operation, the center now resides on Carlin Springs Road as BalletNova Center for Dance, with Matthew Powell as Artistic Director, Constance Walsh as Director of Enrichment and Adult Programs, Principal of the Pre-Professional Division, and Kathy Paczak as Operations Manager.
Matthew Powell came to BalletNova from New York with a background in professional ballet training and teaching. Kathy Paczak came here 12 years ago for her daughter but ended up falling in love with the studio herself.
BalletNova is a 501(c)3 Non-Profit Corporation. The board of directors comes from various dance and non-dance backgrounds, with a wide range of business skill sets to guide and maintain the studio’s business, financial, and artistic strategy.
On Monday, March 16, 2020, five days after the pandemic was officially declared, BalletNova shut down to rechoreograph its business strategy. “We were one of the first to realize that you could teach ballet virtually,” Mathew says. “In those first two weeks, we did a full school on Facebook Live.”
When the first two weeks ended, Kathy says, “We realized [the pandemic] was going to be a longer-term thing.” And so they continued to innovate. Embracing technology, BalletNova was soon up and dancing again via Zoom.
“The dancers really just enjoyed it,” says Matthew. “And the parents embraced it, too,” adds Kathy. “We get thank-yous from parents who have said to me, ‘My child is so much happier for the one or two hours they are Zooming with you guys.’”
As summer approached, so did a new challenge: how to run BalletNova’s summer intensive courses. With Matthew’s worldwide background, he thought up a way. “All I had to do was call up my friends and ask them to jump on Zoom. We had 23 master teachers from all over the world,” he says.
Having conquered the virtual dance world, BalletNova was still calculating when and how to return to the studio safely when Kathy came across the company WellNest, a professional janitorial company skilled in infection prevention protocols for facilities of all sizes and uses. “The masks and the distancing were easy enough for everybody to understand. The hard part [of cleaning] was the barres,” Kathy says. “WellNest was so helpful in writing protocols and giving us confidence.”
On top of its consulting work for BalletNova, WellNest performs a monthly electrostatic deep cleaning of the studio to maintain cleanliness and confidence.
Now offering a full schedule of classes, BalletNOVA has socially distanced floor and barre markers, socially distanced choreography, disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer, and two-way Zoom monitors. It offers in-person and virtual classes for all three dance levels: pre-professional, youth and teen enrichment, and adult. “We are the outlet where they can be in person somewhere and know that they can be safe,” Kathy says.
So dancers are back in the studio, but what about the theater? “That was another huge pivot for us: giving students a new performing opportunity,” says Kathy.
BalletNova filmed Nutcracker in its black-box theater. As unconventional as it was, it was a massive success. “I think we will be live streaming our performances for years to come,” says Matthew. “We had people from five countries tune in. Why not continue to give everyone the opportunity to view our art?”
BalletNova’s 40th year has been a time of breaking tradition and breaking ground. “We want anybody who wants to dance to have the opportunity,” Kathy says. The studio is currently looking for outdoor and indoor venues for live performances in the near future, but until then, BalletNova will continue to innovate and accommodate.