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For the Love of Dance

by Suburban Family-- Editorial Staff
More than 30 years ago, a couple of dancers from the Pennsylvania Ballet, Barbara Sandonato and her husband, Alexei Judenich, and a group of dedicated volunteers came together with a goal of having a professional-like ballet experience for the children of South Jersey. In 1984, Children's Ballet Theatre (CBT), the All South Jersey Youth Ballet opened its doors for the first production of The Nutcracker.

Artistic Director David Gallagher was hired in 1987. Suburban Family recently spoke with Gallagher about the Ballet’s mission and the programs it offers.

The mission of CBT, now named BalletNj, Theater Company of New Jersey, was to provide an opportunity for the children to not only have a professional like experience as a dancer and an audience member, but do so, at an affordable price.

Indeed, traveling to Philadelphia or New York City to see the ballet can be very expensive when you factor in tolls, parking and gasoline in addition to the price of a ticket. “We’ve kept ticket prices low primarily for that reason,” Gallagher says. “To see famous dancers from the Pennsylvania Ballet and New York City for $22 (our highest ticket price) is a wonderful thing. It makes it possible for anyone that wants to see these incredible performers an opportunity to do so. For $22 you can see rising stars of American ballet Aaron Anker, Lillian Di Piazza and Jordan Martin in ‘Swan Lake.’” And when you consider the Ballet’s funding comes completely from ticket sales and fundraising activities, this is no small feat.

Having a professional-like artistic experience right here in South Jersey provides an opportunity for dancers 4-18 to prepare to take the next step. In contrast to a recital setting where all children dance the same part, members of BalletNj audition for each part and are cast based on their skill level, not their age or class level.

“All the choreography is age appropriate, but if a child is capable of doing more, he or she does more,” Gallagher explains. “It is a true professional experience in the sense that the dancers are cast in roles that are suited to their skill set and, in the opinion of the artistic director, for the needs of the production.”

For those who are interested in taking their training further, The Academy of BalletNj offers a Summer Intensive program in which dancers can take 15 or more lessons a week for a five-week period.

“Unfettered with the demands of school or other extracurricular activities, it affords them a full day of training without distractions during the school year when they have other obligations,” he says. “It allows them to train in a very intensive way. ... It affords them a tremendous opportunity to improve their skills.”

Currently, the dancers of BalletNj are preparing for the group’s fourth ever production of “Swan Lake,” which Gallagher says is its most complete production. Starring dancers from The Pennsylvania Ballet and New York City, this production will feature sets and décor from the award-winning Quinlan's Scenic Studios and costumes by Rosemary Gorman. “It’s a production that no one does anymore and it really is, in my opinion, the best production you’ll see around here. There’s nothing like it in this area,” Gallagher explains.

And while such a sophisticated performance may seem like a daunting task for a younger generation, Gallagher says his students are up for the challenge. Order your tickets now by calling (856) 768-9503 or go to so you do not miss the highlight of the spring dance season in South Jersey. BalletNj accepts Mastercard/Visa and parking is free.

BalletNj presents "Swan Lake”
April 29 & 30, May 6 & 7
The Voorhees Schools Theater
1000 Holly Oak Drive, Voorhees

BalletNj Theater Company of New Jersey
401 Bloomfield Drive, #4 West Berlin
(856) 768-9503

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 1 (March, 2017).
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