business resiliency during covid

CHUCK:  I’m Chuck Moran with Online Video Mastery, and I’m excited to be joined today by Sara Clayborne. Sara is the owner and founder of Charlottesville Ballet, a marvelous academy here in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

I’m excited because Sara and I talked a month or so ago about some of the techniques that she’s been using on Zoom to teach her students, and I was inspired by the different tips and tricks that she’s come up with in response to the COVID outbreak. So I’m looking forward to diving into those tips and tricks with Sara. 

So Sara, why don’t you go ahead and tell us a little bit about your background, your bio, and then how you got into creating Charlottesville Ballet.

SARA: Thank you so much for having me. I am Sara Clayborne. I’m the co-founder of the Charlottesville Ballet, along with my business partner, Emily Hartka. We founded the organization in 2007 to see if it were possible to really live out the mission of health and wellness within the ballet world. It’s pretty typical in the ballet world for lots of unhealthy habits to come up. And so, we wanted to see if it would be possible to start a company with a more holistic approach within its mission. 

I am originally from New York. I grew up on Long Island. I went to high school in Manhattan at the Professional Children’s School. I danced professionally in New York before moving to Richmond, Virginia, and I had only intended on staying in Virginia for one summer. I wanted to get out of the city and see what life was like.

Upon living in Virginia for just those few short months, I realized that people were — not that people are not nice in New York because they’re lovely people, that’s all my family — but people are so nice. The cost of living was so much less. And there really was a wonderful, beautiful thriving arts community. And so, as I was dancing as a trainee of the Richmond Ballet, I was also teaching here in Charlottesville, and I was familiar with Charlottesville because my brother and my sister-in-law attended the University of Virginia. I knew that Charlottesville was a very cultured community, but I realized that there was no professional ballet company here. And so Emily Hartka, who was a roommate of mine — we also waited tables together while we were dancing in Richmond together — had planned to attend the University of Virginia.

We decided we would do a case study to see if it were possible to have a healthy ballet company. We were both very young at the time and had nothing to lose. So we had nothing to start the company but also, at the same time, it was very little risk. We were already waiting tables and working several jobs. We had a lot of grit and passion for what we were doing and wanted to see if it were at all possible to start something new. 

In 2007, we started the company Charlottesville Ballet, a nonprofit organization — we’re a 501(c)(3) — with three main components. We have our professional company of dancers that come from all over the country, and some even from abroad. They’re professional dancers, which is hard for people to sometimes understand. They are at the highest level of their career. They audition to be paid by the Charlottesville Ballet to perform throughout Central Virginia. They are really high-caliber artists. 

In addition, we have Charlottesville Ballet Academy, and lots of our professional company dancers (our performers) teach at our academy. So, it’s a unique advantage that our students have — to have professionals that are actively performing or have recently retired from the stage, or even those that have been retired for a long time. They’ve had professional performing careers teaching, and those classes are from age one-and-a-half. But I think our oldest student is 90 or 92. 

The third component of the organization is the outreach and engagement program. We call that Speedy Moves. And that’s where we go into public schools and do our “Chance to Dance” program. We go to The Center here in Charlottesville and serve senior members of our community with free programming. And we have a “Movement for Parkinsons” class that is a free class we offer for anyone with any sort of movement disorder and their caretakers. And those are free programs that we do throughout the community. 

So we have lots of different prongs of the organization. It’s been an exciting journey. All of it, really, with the mission of health and wellness — to see if it was possible to really treat our dancers with a healthy, holistic approach of not having one body type, one aesthetic, one look that is needed for the dancers. We just want healthy, fit dancers of all backgrounds.

CHUCK: And all ages, too. Wow. Well, first of all, I have no idea how you get all that done. I don’t know when you sleep.

I wanted to ask you to dive a little bit deeper into the unhealthy stereotype that you were fighting against. I can see why you’d be motivated to change that. What are some of the characteristics of that stereotype that you wanted to change?

SARA: Actually, my business partner, Emily Hartka, is very open about her history with eating disorders. She suffered from eating disorders for about 10 years before founding Charlottesville Ballet. And some of that, I think, has to do with the culture of ballet and the history of how it evolved, especially in our country. There is a very, very strict aesthetic for most ballerinas in our country, and even abroad, that it is an aesthetic that is really only possible for a very select few to achieve in a healthy way. And so, we wanted to see if it were possible to not decrease the level of technical ability of artists, but allow for more diversity in body type,size, and shape and do that in a way that is authentic — especially to the women who are coming to dance, to do this career in a way where they can be truly artists and using their bodies in a way to express movement, emotion, and a story.

We felt like it was something that was lacking in the ballet world. I think there’s definitely a trend for this, but it wasn’t at the forefront of any of the places that we had been working or training. 

And so wit