The Tallahassee Ballet
The Tallahassee Ballet (TTB) was founded in 1972 as The Tallahassee Civic Ballet by Helen Salter. Practices were initially held in her studios in the lower level of the Northwood Mall, which was, at the time, a thriving shopping center. In the late 70s, the Ballet moved into what is now the Governor’s Club. “I believe, at the time, it was also the home of some men’s club,” says Pamela Marsh, an original dancer in the Company. “There was no air-conditioning, but it had a fantastic springy wooden ballroom dance floor and huge windows that we could open up for a breeze.” Then director, Nancy Carroll Abbey, fondly remembers dancers pitching in to help spread Slip-No-More on those shiny (and slippery) wood floors. She also recalls lugging a huge and heavy open-reel tape recorder down Monroe Street and up the steps to the former Elks Lodge. “We were allowed to use the space, but not to leave anything there.”
In the early 80s, TTB rehearsed in the abandoned space of the old downtown library at the corner of Monroe and Call Streets, across from St. John’s Episcopal Church. According to Marsh, “It was dusty and dirty, and the Tallahassee cloggers practiced above us at the same time, which resulted in a layer of silt raining down on everything. My pink tights came home gray.”
“Have pointe shoes, will travel,” says Carmen Braswell Butler, TTB’s first Clara in the full-length production of The Nutcracker. “Back when I was in the Company, we did not have a permanent home, so we took class and rehearsed in studios all around town — wherever we could get time and space. Of course, that would be a logistical nightmare today, but as dancers, we didn’t think much of it at the time. I’m sure it was a massive challenge for Joyce (Straub) Fausone, but she managed, or rather ‘choreographed,’ everything beautifully and made it work.” Marsh adds, “At times, we practiced at Sharon Davis’s studios, and when I came back to do a guest spot in 1988, we were practicing out on Capital Circle in a warehouse.”
It was in October of 1988 that TTB found a new home on Third Avenue. “We thought we had died and gone to heaven,” says Joyce (Straub) Fausone. “The rehearsal studio was wonderful except for one support pole dead center.” After several years of dancing around the pole, Joyce and Kathryn Karrh (KK) Cashin consulted with a civil engineer to remove it. “When the pole was ready to be disengaged, KK and I looked at each other and decided it might be a good time to get out of the building!” Later generations knew nothing of the obstruction unless they inquired about the patched Marley dead center in the studio.
After TTB started its school in 2009, TTB quickly outgrew this facility. Several years later, in 2013, TTB moved into the “Old Publix” at Northwood Centre on MLK Boulevard in Midtown. “We were elated to now have two studios and sufficient parking,” says Janet Pichard, “and Resident Costume Designer Ann Todd and her team were thrilled with having better space for sewing and storage. Yenna Colvin and her husband, Barry, designed and built a vast custom costume closet.”
When the Company moved into its new studios, the Board of Directors set a goal of becoming a professional company within 10 years. Upon the next fiscal year, the budget included salaries for the top principal dancers. TTB ran for several years on a semi-professional basis, each year raising wages and adding the number of paid dancers.
As of our 50th Anniversary in 2023, TTB hosts a fully professional main Company with an apprentice program. It also maintains a community Youth Company for emerging artists in training. The two companies and their official school (The Tallahassee Ballet School) train in a facility that we could have never dreamed of back in the 70s. TTB moved to its new state-of-the-art, 14,000-square-foot facility in 2021. The new location boasts three studios, a warm-up space, dressing rooms with showers, a parent waiting room, a dancer break room, a board room, a costume construction room, on-site costume and set storage, and more. “Our new facility is just the beginning of what the future has in store,” says Tyrone Brooks. “Renewed energy toward a future bright with innovation.”
KK, who was a mainstay with The Tallahassee Ballet until her passing in 2023, said, “It has been my great joy to be involved with TTB in some fashion since 1980. Throughout the years, wherever The Tallahassee Ballet called home (sometimes without even having a home), the group has thrived. And the current dancers are as talented and committed as ever before.”
Helen Salter provided a great foundation that was built upon by countless leaders, artists, volunteers, donors, and patrons, who have gotten The Tallahassee Ballet to where it is today, and many people with this same spirit will take The Tallahassee Ballet into the future.