St. Joseph Ballet School Moves to Marketplace

Times Staff Writer

After five years of slogging it out in the basement of a church, Beth Burns and the St. Joseph Ballet school and company moved into a new, grander location in Santa Ana's Fiesta Marketplace on Sunday.

The move came courtesy of five partners in the downtown Marketplace, who are providing the 4,000-square-foot facility rent-free for five years.

Additional help came from a $60,000 grant from the city of Santa Ana and donations from private individuals that paid for the architectural design, an oak floor, floor-to-ceiling mirrors and dressing rooms.

A gift of $55,000 to complete the facility was donated by the New York-based Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Foundation. The studio has been named the Guggenheim Dance Studio in honor of the grant.

Artistic director Beth Burns founded the troupe in 1984 to offer ballet training and dance opportunities to disadvantaged, inner-city youths ages 9 to 19. She estimates that she has trained more than 800 young people in ballet and dance and reached an additional 7,000 through dance programs given in local schools.

The company was founded under the auspices of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, which Burns joined in 1978. She left the order this summer, she said, to "continue (my) spiritual development in other paths." The company, which she will continue to head, was incorporated as a separate entity in January.

For five years, classes and dance events had been held in the basement of the Episcopal Church of the Messiah in Santa Ana.

"Unless they had given us that space free . . . we wouldn't be anything," Burns said. "(But) it was small, less than 1,000 square feet, and our classes sometime have more than 40 children. . . . We were really overcrowded. This is an enormous improvement."

Burns said she plans to increase enrollment and number of classes by 50%.

The budget picture also looks good, with the company only $35,000 short of meeting a 2-for-1 challenge grant of $150,000 pledged by two Orange County couples. The deadline for meeting that grant is Dec. 1.

"When people see the children perform," Burns said, "it's a real testimony to the transformative powers of any classical means of expression.

"It's very exciting and rewarding to see how dance is changing these children's lives. . . . We need these children. I don't think doing this is just one way, but a two-way street. Volunteers and donors are renewed by what is happening to these children's lives."

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