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Washington Voices

School owner drawn back to ballet

Beautiful piano music echoed down the halls of Ballet Arts Academy in downtown Spokane on a recent afternoon. An advanced class taught by Karen Kraft executed graceful pliés and pirouettes.

Sweat glistened from 17-year-old Mimi Palmer’s brow. “I’ve been dancing 11 years at this studio,” she said. She described her love of ballet: “You can feel yourself let go and forget about the outside world.”

Indeed, the glaring sun and bustling traffic seemed far removed from the old brick building as Kraft worked with the dancers.

“Don’t worry if you’re falling,” she said. “These are the days you’re learning the best.”

Ballet Arts Academy has been a fixture in the Spokane dance scene for more than 25 years. In April, the studio got a new owner-director, but Mimi Ewers is certainly not new to dance.

“I’m an old-time dancer who married a Spokanite and came to Spokane nine years ago,” she said. Ewers had a dance school in her native Honduras. She met her husband, Matt, when he was working for Dole there. When she moved to Spokane to marry him she had to shutter her beloved school.

“I thought I could stop dancing,” Ewers said. “I thought, I’ll go back to university and study something else – I’ll play a lot of tennis.”

It turns out she’d hung up her toe shoes prematurely. She said, “You can exercise 10 hours a day but if it’s not dance, it’s not fulfilling.”

Ewers scoured the city searching for a place to dance and found Ballet Arts Academy. She signed up for classes and a few months later was asked to teach.

When the former owner was ready to move on, she asked Ewers to take over the studio. “I inherited a very good school,” Ewers said.

And she’s eager to raise the barre, so to speak. Ewers recently named Jefferson Baum as her artistic adviser.

Baum is an internationally acclaimed master teacher and choreographer. He began his career with the Pennsylvania Ballet Company and subsequently was a soloist with the Ballet de Monte Carlo, touring Europe for two years. He has performed as a principal with numerous companies including the New Jersey Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, New York City Opera Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera Ballet.

“He’s very old-school,” Ewers said. “He’s all about exquisite manners and being young ladies and gentlemen.”

Baum will be teaching at the school from Aug. 13-18. The classes are open to all dancers. While in town he will also be auditioning for the company and beginning preparations for their performance at First Night Spokane.

Ewers wants her students to experience dance on a larger scale. She plans to take them to France next summer. “I want to give young dancers an opportunity to dance in Europe,” she said.

Meanwhile, at the school, her students were working hard. Rosy Gentle, 17, said she’s at the studio five to six times a week. While mastering the disciplines in the practice room, she dreams of being onstage. “I like performing the best,” she said. “There’s a different energy.”

Ewers agreed. “We kill ourselves here in class because we want to perform.”

Christopher Lamb, 24, doesn’t mind the work. He relishes the challenge of making something difficult look effortless. “I like the technicality – the steps, leaps and jumps – the art of the athletic moves,” he said.

As for Ewers, she’s thrilled to have her own school once again.

“Movement is a universal language of no words,” she said. “Dance is like my oxygen. Moving to beautiful music and expressing myself – I come to life.”

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