The past year has been difficult for so many, but hundreds of arts, theater, music and dance organizations have in many instances been stretched to the limits in hopes of surviving.
Westchester Ballet Company (WBC) is no different. The acclaimed Ossining-based nonprofit organization noted for its youth ballet training and high-quality productions, has for years provided the dancers for “The Nutcracker” each December at the County Center.
But what was supposed to be a 70th anniversary celebration in 2020, turned into a year where no tickets were sold, no fundraising galas were held and no performances for the students ranging from elementary school through high school were scheduled.
Aside from having little revenue, the company also had to manage the disappointment of so many young dancers who had worked for years to earn their shot on the big stage, said Amy Harte, WBC’s board president.
They were able to present a free virtual performance of “The Nutcracker” last holiday season, which gave the dancers something to work toward, although it featured less half of the company’s 100 dancers.
“I think our dancers have always, and “The Nutcracker” is so important to them, but now I think they appreciate it even more, and I think they realize, as so many of us do, we can’t take anything for granted,” Harte said. “We can’t just go through our lives thinking everything will be there for us, it’ll be there for us forever. We don’t know that, so we need to cherish the events.”
The ballet company, its board and supporters are working hard to make sure that it will be there for generations of dancers to come. Starting last Friday and continuing through the end of April, it is holding its WBC@70 Spring Fundraising Campaign in celebration of its 70th year. The goal is to raise $70,000 to support more dance scholarships, strengthen community outreach to diversify its dancers and audience and to maintain affordable tickets.
Harte said raising the money, like so many organizations, will be the lifeblood for WBC and it is trying to appeal to a wider audience, not just ballet lovers and family and friends of the dancers. They have also produced its own documentary “Why We Dance”
“We can’t step on the stage again unless we’re in a position to pay our bills,” Harte said. “We also need to make sure we can fulfill our mission fully, so that includes our community outreach and making sure we are connecting with the community, making sure that what we are doing is accessible.”
For seven decades, WBC has been providing opportunities for young dancers like Adia Biem. The Fox Lane High School senior and Mount Kisco resident has been dancing with WBC since kindergarten.
Biem said she enjoyed the benefits of the physical activity of dancing and also met other youngsters whom she would have otherwise never met. They have become some of the most important people her life, she said.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, having earned a lead role in the virtual production of “The Nutcracker,” may have been the most memorable time for her over the past 10 years.
“I think this year, even though it’s been so crazy, this has been the best role I have had,” Biem said. “Even though I wasn’t on a real stage…I just felt a real sense of accomplishment when I got to dance that part, even though it was in the studio, they made the best situation, which I think is really, really great, that we had this opportunity at all to begin with.”
Harte said some of the dancers go on to professional dance careers, but many do not and go on to other pursuits. But the experience of working together as a team and meeting other students outside each youngster’s bubble has been beneficial for so many WBC alums, she said.
“We need to make sure we are solid for the future,” Harte said. “I hope I can help this organization celebrate its 100th.”
For more information on the Westchester Ballet Company or to donate, visit www.westchesterballet.org and click on “Donate!”