Giving Back: Ballet on Wheels

Giving Back: Ballet on Wheels

Ballet On Wheels combines a physical space in Cooper-Young and a traveling dance studio to give its participants an opportunity to learn the fundamentals of dance while developing self-discipline, perseverance and creativity. Ballet On Wheels Dance School is a nonprofit, pre-professional, community-based classical ballet school and youth dance company. Its mission is “to develop and define art education and appreciation of classical ballet and other dance genres, through self-discipline, creative expression and performance exposure in young people of diverse backgrounds.”


Artistic Director Chauniece Thompson is the creative force behind Ballet On Wheels Dance School. Dance is an important part of who she is. Thompson was 8 when she learned at Ballet South/Tennessee Ballet Company. Her selection for the role of Clara in “The Nutcracker” in 1986 made her the first African-American female dancer to perform the part in the Southeast with a mixed professional ballet company. She later joined River City Ballet Company as a principal dancer, studying under Carlton Lee Johnson. She taught dance classes in college, but didn’t have intentions to pursue it as a career. Fast forward a few years when Johnson passed away, and Thompson decided to open a school where she continued the education of some of her mentor’s students. That was 16 years ago.


In those early times, the school was more mobile, moving around the city to teach where the students were. While Ballet On Wheels continues the mobile component of lessons, the Cooper-Young studio hosts students from age 3 up to 18 where they learn the art form and theory of classical ballet, creative movement, pointe, modern, jazz and boys hip-hop dance genres. Students have the opportunity to participate in classes that run throughout the year. Ballet On Wheels works with around 2,000 students per year.


The satellite program is an opportunity for Ballet On Wheels to take its programming to various schools, churches and nonprofit organizations around the community. The host organizations vary but typically are the types that work with children. “Our community component is amazing,” Thompson said. “We’re able to reach more kids because we’re out in the community as opposed to our studio space.” Ballet On Wheels’ studio program hosts three performance companies. It’s an opportunity for more serious dancers to perform 15 or so times in a year at various events throughout the city.


“We want to continue to expand our student base and reach more kids with more classes,” Thompson said. “We look at our curriculum on a annual basis to see what we need to tweak to suit their overall goals. And we’d like to do more outside travel. We do a lot in the city but we’d love to branch out, in order to show more people who we are and what we do.”


Something Thompson is passionate about is a scholarship audition, which will be Nov. 10. The annual scholarship program is a merit audition that provides the students an opportunity to earn a full scholarship. “It’s an opportunity for students in the community to come out and show us what they are made of,” Thompson said. For more information, to check out performance dates or make a donation, go to


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