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Arts & Extras: Ballet school leaps from Salem to Roanoke

Arts & Extras: Ballet school leaps from Salem to Roanoke

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Toes will be en pointe in a former silk manufacturing plant when Star City School of Ballet opens its new home in February.

The for-profit school, formerly named The Dance Centre of Southwest Virginia, and before then the Post School of Ballet, has operated in Salem since 1986. Since 1990 the school has hosted the nonprofit Southwest Virginia Ballet company, which performs the “The Nutcracker” at Berglund Center every year.

On Feb. 1, the school moves from its 3,800-square foot studio on Calhoun Street to a 15,000-square-foot space in the Roanoke Industrial Center in the city’s southeast quadrant.

“A dream come true,” said Southwest Virginia Ballet artistic director and Star City School co-owner Pedro Szalay.

The ballet’s new digs at 1005 Industry Ave. S.E. are inside a structure that was once part of the American Viscose Corp. silk manufacturing plant that operated in the early 20th century.

Renovations to the cavernous chambers of the empty factory have been in the works since late 2017. Will Trinkle, co-owner and self-described “custodian” of the Roanoke Industrial Center, estimated that the project cost about $600,000. “To date, we’re (mostly) on budget,” he wrote.

About $10,000 for the exterior came from a Roanoke facade grant. “We are also applying for historic tax credits on this project,” Trinkle wrote. As tenants continue to move into buildings in the center and more renovations are needed, “the facade grants and historic tax credit programs make these projects look more realistic.”

The new facility will have four studios with vinyl-covered sprung floors, which are shock absorbent and thus ideal for dance practice. A divider between two of the studios can be removed to create one large performance space.

“This is not only for us,” Szalay said. “This is really for the people who want to come and learn,” in an environment like that of a professional ballet school.

Another of the studios is designated for fitness classes such as yoga and Pilates. There are dressing rooms, a study hall for dancers and dance students of grade school age to do their homework, and a storage room for Southwest Virginia Ballet’s stage props, sets and costumes — at present, SVB keeps those items in rented storage units off-site.

“To be at the center of Roanoke, to have this kind of parking, is great,” Szalay said. “It’s a great location.”

The layout contains separate, adjacent offices for Star City School and Southwest Virginia Ballet. The entities are separate but connected. Nonprofit SVB pays rent to the for-profit school. Szalay and his husband, Roanoke artist Mark Sheppard, purchased the ballet school in 2017. “We gave a lot to this project.”

Trinkle first met Szalay 15 years ago, when the former was a member of the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the latter was a dancer and teacher with the Richmond Ballet. Szalay became part-time artistic director of SVB in 2006. His position became full-time in 2012.

“Tenants like Pedro and Mark and the Star City Ballet School are a dream to work with,” Trinkle wrote. “Having an organization of this stature, with such roots in, and dedication to, the community, improves all of the Center.”

For more information about Star City School of Ballet, visit the school’s Facebook page. For more about Southwest Virginia Ballet, visit https://svballet.org.

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Mike Allen is the editorial page editor for The Roanoke Times. His past beats as a Roanoke Times reporter included Botetourt County, Franklin County, courts and legal issues, and arts and culture.

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