NORTH KINGSTOWN — Typically recital time, June is a busy month in the world of dance. But for 30 girls in a North Kingstown ballet studio, every month is filled with practice in preparation for performances throughout the year. These young women—ages 9 through 18—are the talented members of Rhode Island’s ballet theatre, the region’s only pre-professional training company for classical young dancers.
Under the artistic direction of Nancy D. McAuliffe since its incorporation as a nonprofit organization in 1997, RIbt strives to help promising young dancers reach their full potential. The program consists of a weekly company class, a series of master classes, regular evaluation and learning experiences with professional ballet companies. It also gives the students opportunities to see professional dancers in a variety of venues. In short, RIbt trains body and mind.
“I wanted to work with a group of kids who were serious about dance,” McAuliffe said about the organization’s genesis. One of the students at her studio, Rhode Island Ballet Arts Academy, wished to pursue dance more rigorously. The young girl’s father, Robert Newbert, saw the same need for a program to make this possible for young dancers throughout the state.
“We wanted to do more for these students—the ones who wanted to excel and take correction and have more specialized performance opportunities,” McAuliffe said.
Together McAuliffe and Newbert formed the nonprofit which today in its 16th year has become a great success. It functions with a board of directors comprised of parents, teachers and community members with a common goal: to support the art of dance.
Twelve-year-old Lilly O’Flaherty of North Kingstown, is a prime example of one of those serious students who yearns to do more.
“I like the idea of performing in shows in addition to the yearly recitals,” said O’Flaherty, who aspires to be a ballerina in a professional company. “Juggling everything with schoolwork can be nerve-wracking,” she said, adding that the joy of dance is well worth her six-day-a-week practice at the studio.
McAuliffe said that only a small percentage of her RIbt dancers actually go on to pursue professional dance afterward; those that do have launched prestigious careers, including spots with the National Ballet of Canada and Rhode Island’s premier professional troop, Festival Ballet in Providence. Some have opened their own studios throughout the country. Many teach dance part-time. Many more continue to dance in college. And a good amount of girls earn college scholarships—in a variety of disciplines—because of the distinction and commitment that RIbt represents on their application.
For North Kingstown High School senior, Juliana McBroom, dance will continue to be a part of her life at Quinnipiac University, but not her focus.
“I hope to join the university’s dance club,” she said. And although she does not have designs on a career in ballet, McBroom will carry with her many happy memories of her eight years with RIbt. “We get to go out in the community a lot; that has been my favorite part,” said McBroom, who enjoyed dancing alongside the singers of the North Kingstown Community Chorus and at Roger Williams University’s theater.
Community partnership is something that McAuliffe feels strongly about. RIbt’s recent involvement with the Newport Arts and Cultural Alliance has helped strengthen this community outreach. The company has performed at the Newport Arts Museum and is slated to entertain residents of Edward King House, a senior home in Newport. The group also has danced in the State House, at Blithewold Mansion, at schools and in parades in North Kingstown and at Disney World.
RIbt shows have ranged from a classical interpretation of the children’s story “Madeline” and a youthful look at “The Cat in the Hat” to the more serious undertones of a Salem Witch Trial dance and a moving version of El Shaddai (a song by Amy Grant). A favorite is the annual Christmas show, which features excerpts of Tchaikovsky’s timeless” Nutcracker.”
Guiding the company’s productions is McAuliffe with the assistance of teachers, including Ellie Lupo, an accomplished dancer and devoted teacher, whose career has spanned many decades. She has worked with McAuliffe for 12 years and focuses on choreography for the company.
“Choreography comes out of teaching—they’re connected,” said Lupo, who is careful to create dances that fit age groups appropriately. “Because of the girls’ passion and commitment, we can do more with them; we can take them further than in a regular class setting,” she said. The company offers them “extra learning and polish.”
A founding member of the Alvin Ailey-inspired, Boston-based dance group, Impulse, Lupo studied at American Ballet Theater and apprenticed at the Joffrey Ballet in New York City. Her credentials match the high standards that McAuliffe holds for the company.
McAuliffe herself was a founding member of Festival Ballet and danced with the ballet corps in Radio City Music Hall, when classical dance was a part of the majestic performance. She opened her own studio in 1969. Like Lupo, she feels proud and fortunate to have been able to pursue her love of dance here in Rhode Island for most of her life.
“We all support the art of dance,” McAuliffe said.
Every month, every year, RIbt tries to share that passion for ballet with the young girls who spend their days at the barre and with the arts-minded community members in the Ocean State who know that this small niche is essential to keep classical dance alive.
The next audition for RIbt will be held June 20 at the North Kingstown studio. Call 294-9279 or check www.riballet.org  for more information.