TUPELO — Since 1982, Tupelo Ballet has showcased the grace and skill of innumerous dancers through its stylish productions of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, “The Nutcracker,” and countless other shows. This Saturday, the ballet company will celebrate 40 years of showcasing the dance arts with a grand gala.
Tupelo Ballet’s Raising the Barre gala will begin this Saturday, Jan. 21, at 6:30 p.m. at the Tupelo Cotton Mill. Tickets are available to purchase online for $50. The soiree will feature a tribute performance, silent auction and accoutrements as attendees celebrate the legacy that Tupelo Ballet has provided for the Tupelo community.
Sharon Long, the founder of and artistic director for Tupelo Ballet, said this weekend’s event will honor those that have helped Tupelo Ballet grow throughout the last four decades.
“It is a celebration of 40 years of hard work by many people,” she said. "It’s a celebration of dance; it’s a celebration of lots of memories and future plans.”
The Tupelo native and longtime dance instructor established her studio, Tupelo Academy of Dance Arts, in 1976. Just a few years later, Long created a ballet company in conjunction with the studio.
Long accredits the many mentors and supporters who encouraged her along the way, especially those who were vital to the beginnings of the nonprofit dance company.
“We started out very small,” she said. “Wade Lagrone, who was founder of the Tupelo Symphony, encouraged me to add a company to my school because, at that time, I was teaching with my own studio.”
The ballerina-turned-instructor said the process included establishing a charter and submitting paperwork for federal recognition as a nonprofit organization.
Now, 40 years later, the company comprises ballerinas of all ages and a board of parents and community supporters.
“I’ve got a wonderful ballet board and have had one since 1982. The community support of the arts here in this city is unbelievable,” Long said.
Although Long founded the company, she gives much of the credit for its success to those who have and continue to champion ballet and the arts in Tupelo.
“I talk about the community in Tupelo to the rest of the state, and they’re just blown away,” Long said.
She also sings the praises of groups like the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra and Tupelo Community Theatre for helping elevate the work of the ballet company with music or additional props and costumes when needed.
“The added music of the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra is always fantastic, and Tom Booth with TCT was always wonderful about sharing any costumes and props with us,” she said of TCT’s executive director, who died last Wednesday.
Besides the contributions made by other local arts organizations, Long said there are many unsung heroes behind the scenes of Tupelo Ballet whose hard work merits credit they rarely receive.
“I have wonderful people working behind the scenes who never get the credit they deserve,” she said.
Now, Long is looking forward to the next 40 years with two new instructors and associate artistic directors by her side. This past summer, Paul and Megan Tillman joined Tupelo Academy of Dance Arts and Tupelo Ballet from Ballet Arkansas.
Working together, Long believes the dance company has a promising future ahead.
“We’re going to keep going strong, and the three of us make a good team,” she said.
For Long, Saturday’s gala not only symbolizes 40 years of community support, it also reminds her of the lasting impact the ballet company has had on its many dancers over the years.
“At this point in my life, I hope that I have shared my love of dance with thousands of girls that have come through the school and the company,” she said. “I’m very blessed to have had that opportunity, and I thank my community for giving me that opportunity.”
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