Standing alone in the studio, bright triangles of sunlight dappling cream walls lined with mirrors and wooden ballet barres behind her, Jennifer Cafarella offered her students on Zoom a dance lesson and a peek at what awaited them at the beginning of September: four newly renovated studio spaces, a wide open lobby and plenty of natural light.
On Sept. 8, Ballet Theatre of Phoenix will open its new location at Seventh Street and Glendale Avenue, doubling the number of studio spaces from two to four.
“It’s very fresh and contemporary, and very clean and bright,” said Cafarella, the founder and director of Ballet Theatre of Phoenix. “We’re very excited about having enough space to actually function. We were very cramped in the other space.”
The new 7,800-square-foot space includes studios, dressing rooms, showers and bathrooms, and upstairs, offices and storage space. One of the four studios also has hardwood flooring, which will allow the ballet company to offer classes such as flamenco, musical theater and tap — dances that normally damage the floors in regular ballet studios. And Cafarella plans to make the studios available to outside instructors who can rent space and offer unique classes such as aerial or belly dancing.
The extra studios also give faculty the opportunity to teach students in the Classical Ballet Program, which trains students ages 8-18 studying for a professional career in classical ballet, more contemporary and modern styles of dance.
“We’re excited because I really am focused on the kids learning how to move in many different ways,” Cafarella said. “And also it’s nice to be very classical and then be able to take off those shoes and just do other things.”
In addition to a wide variety of classes for children and adults, one of the school’s signature programs is the PLIÉS (Providing Leaps in Elementary School) Program, which offers five scholarships to students from a local elementary school each year. The combination of the move and the COVID-19 pandemic have disrupted the program, but Cafarella is hopeful that it will get a fresh start with a partner school closer to the new
location next year.
The local school district “can’t provide the buses — we can’t even go on campus right now. And then as it is ... everything’s virtual. So, it’s a very difficult situation to figure out,” Cafarella said. “So the previous PLIÉS children will be coming this year, but we have been a little unsuccessful trying to make it happen this year.”
Ensuring that the PLIÉS program continues next year is especially important to Cafarella because it’s one of the main ways that she sees her company “doing Jewish.”
“We’re always trying to do Jewish. And I think that my PLIÉS program is me always trying to do Jewish without necessarily belonging to anything at all,” Cafarella said.
Growing up, Cafarella was deeply involved in the arts and the Jewish community thanks to her parents, Susan and Nestor Guzman. The family attended Temple Solel, where Cafarella had her bat mitzvah and her parents sang in the choir.
“I started ballet when I was 6 and never stopped, and my parents have season tickets to just about every theater in the Valley,” Cafarella said. “My father actually ended up converting because he joined the temple choir with my mom. He wanted to sing, and then sat through so many services and was kind of like, this speaks more to me than whatever else he was practicing.”
Today, the Guzmans are members of Temple Kol Ami, where Cafarella’s three daughters had their bat mitzvahs, and remain deeply involved in the community and in the arts. The Guzmans purchased and donated a building to Convergence Ballet Company, a nonprofit founded by Cafarella in 2010 that supports the Ballet Theatre of Phoenix.
“That is how they are giving back to the arts,” Cafarella said. “They chose to buy the building and help me create this epicenter of dance.”
And the ballet’s new location carries its own legacy: From 2000 until 2019, the building was home to The Stockroom, an office supply store that Les and Linda Moskowitz ran for more than 30 years.
“We’re very excited about taking this building,” Cafarella said. “Mr. Moskowitz was very philanthropic in the community, and [we’re] continuing that tradition of doing Jewish within the building.”
While the new studio spaces were scheduled to open on Aug. 24, delays in the renovations led to Cafarella postponing in-person classes until Sept. 8. Nevertheless, with one studio complete, she’s already teaching over Zoom — and giving her students a peek at the new studios that await them.
“This morning, I taught my adult class from there, and I was able to get some people excited, give them a little tour on my laptop,” Cafarella said. “We’ve been Zooming solidly since March, and it’s definitely dwindling. People are not as supportive anymore ... people are just done with it ... so we’re very excited to be back.”
When classes start back up in-person, there will be health and safety measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Dancers will be masked at all times, class sizes will be limited, sanitation stations will be set up throughout the building and floors will be marked with bright red-tape X’s to keep students six feet apart throughout the class.
“We’ve had a positive experience keeping social distancing this summer, so we know what works,” Cafarella said. “We are 100% fully masked and the kids were able to dance masked without a problem ... It is a non-negotiable. Everyone is masked the entire time.”
A Zoom option will still be available for those who aren’t comfortable coming in person. But Cafarella strives for as much normalcy as possible. Her students will perform “The Nutcracker,” a holiday tradition that many ballet companies and schools had to put on hold this year.
“It’s very important that they perform and get on a stage and have something to work up to,” Cafarella said. “Whether it will be livestreamed or filmed, we will still be making that holiday tradition happen.”
Ultimately, Cafarella hopes that the new home of Ballet Theatre of Phoenix will be a center that will expose people of all ages to all styles of dance.
“I would love to have every person of every age and ability be able to look up on our website and find a class and time that’d be perfect for them,” Cafarella said. “Whether they’re home-school kids and want to find an 11 a.m. ballet class, whether they’re 85 and just want to move, whether they’re in a wheelchair and we can do some sort of chair class ... I’m really focused on making this an epicenter for quality dance.” JN