Gyms, Fitness Centers and Dance Studios, Including Westside Ballet, Fight for Survival Amid Covid-19 Restrictions

Mirabelle Weinbach performs the role of Snow Queen in Westside Ballet’s annual Nutcracker at the Broad Stage in 2016.                                                                                                                                                     Photo: Todd Lechtick

 

Yvonne Mounsey founded Westside School of Ballet in 1967 and trained dancers of all ages until her passing in 2012. A former principal dancer with New York City Ballet, she danced the lead in numerous ballets for George Balachine.

Located at Stewart Street in Santa Monica, the school offers inexpensive online classes for everyone from age 4 to adult, but without being able to reopen for in-person classes, the current owner has gone into crisis mode to “Save the Studio.”

Owner and Pacific Palisades resident Allegra Clegg told Circling the News in a May 28 email, “Never in our 53 years have we closed our doors or cancelled a performance.”

“It is so depressing to think that this amazing arts institution could close our doors forever,” she said. “We are a small business – the money that comes in goes out to pay the teachers, pianists and front desk staff,” as well as rent.

Before the Covid-19 shutdown in mid-March, the studio had close to 121 classes weekly, taught by 23 teachers. About 12 pianists provided music for individual classes and there were six administrators handling office-related tasks.

“There is little to no profit and I personally don’t take a salary or any profit from the school,” said Clegg, the founder’s daughter. “I have kept the school going because I know how important it is to our community in developing kids into great adults that will contribute to our society.

“Dancers learn discipline, hard work and grace,” she said. “They learn that nothing comes easy – you have to work hard for things and there are disappointments in life. Westside teaches these life lessons through the rigor of ballet.”

Palisades resident Mirabelle Weinbach, 18, was set to star in the spring concert, dancing in Tchaikovsky’s “Pas de Deux.” The show was cancelled because of Covid-19.

This fall she will attend Princeton. On a video she spoke about her experience at Westside: “It’s taught me how to be a good person. I’ve been inspired by the amazing teachers who have become mentors and have taught me respect, hard work, diligence and dedication.”

“Dance and the studio have given me the tools I need to move through the rest of my life and adulthood as a strong and independent person,” Weinbach continued. “If Westside were to go away, the world would be a bit of a less beautiful place.”

Said Clegg, who works as a producer at Paramount: “Closing our doors permanently would not only be devastating to the students both young and old but would create a void in the arts community.

“Not offering our Nutcracker performances after 47 years, or the educational field trips to over 2,000 kids throughout the city, as well as not being able to give the gift of dance through our scholarship program – I have no words to express how this makes me feel,” she said.

Currently, about 58 online classes are being held via Zoom and Livestream, with capacity and attendance running about a quarter to a third of normal. Teachers have noticed that “Kids are burnt out being online and definitely not in the same shape.”

Online might work for books, but in dance, the athletes need to leap and jump, seemingly flying through the air. Most homes don’t provide that kind of space, which is why studios are so important.

Caprice Walker (Westside Ballet Associate Artistic Director, youth division) instructs a young Mirabelle Weinbach, and Palisadian Shelby Tzung (now with the National Ballet of Canada) in 2011.                                                                                                           Photo: Todd Lechtick

“Kids need to move,” Clegg said. “They need to stay healthy and happy, and this happens at Westside. We must get the kids back to the studio for the sake of their mental and physical health.”

Former Palisades resident Lucia Connolly, who started at Westside and now dances with Joffrey and Barak Ballet, said “This is the only place of its kind on the Westside.

“This is a place for professional dancers as well as nonprofessional dancers to come together to learn and connect, which is crucial for maintaining a vibrant dance community,” Connolly continued. “Westside, praising Westside is unique because of all the performance opportunities it gives its students.”

Jewels Solheim-Roe, director of fundraising and community outreach, wrote in a May 28 email to CTN that the studio had received a PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan, so that teachers will be paid until the end of June.

But, “the future is uncertain because classes and gyms have not been reopened” and “we are not clear if summer session can happen, and so teachers will likely have to go back on unemployment in July. Even if we open, we will be at a far lower capacity. The summer session usually helps sustain the yearly cost for children’s division teachers during the year.”

Those who would like to support Westside Ballet’s mission can make a donation by visiting its Venmo account @westsideballet. (Visit: westsideballet.com.)

 

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