Not the Average Ballet Benefit

The Louisville Ballet performed.During Christmastime in Louisville, seeing “The Nutcracker” presented by the Louisville Ballet is pretty much a cultural must. But as audiences yearly flock by the thousands to this holiday classic, does anyone stop to think about the lives of the dancers onstage? Or about the sacrifices they are making to provide the Louisville community with their exquisite art? Probably not. Fortunately, Raise the Barre, an event entering its fourth year, is looking to change that.

Douglas Riddle, president and Chief Operating Officer of Bittners, was through with planning events and fundraisers when he was asked to join the board of the Louisville Ballet in 2011. “I said ‘I’ll do it, but the last thing I want to do is an event,’” Riddle remembers. That mentality changed, however, when then-Artistic Director Bruce Simpson told Riddle he wanted to create an event to raise money for the dancers’ salaries and attract a younger audience.

To get Riddle on board, Simpson shared a few facts. The Louisville Ballet staffs 23 paid dancers and 22 unpaid trainees. Both groups work 30 weeks a year between mid-August and mid-April. Their average salary is $15,000. “You can imagine, ‘How does anyone live on $15,000?’” Riddle poses. “And you have to take into consideration, too, that they provide all their own makeup, all their own warm-up and workout garments, their gym membership, childcare – all of these things come into play on top of that.”

The Louisville Ballet performed.When Riddle heard this information and the lamentable state of the dancers’ salaries, he felt particularly moved. “When Bruce was sharing all this information with me, it just broke my heart that these artists perform and make such sacrifices for their art and then we just go and sit in our chairs and enjoy the performance,” Riddle describes. Motivated to make a difference, Riddle, with Simpson, co-founded Raise the Barre, an unparalleled event that is a unique kind of fundraiser. Instead of toward programming or operations, all proceeds from Raise the Barre go directly toward bolstering the dancers’ salaries to help them keep working longer.

After having formerly been held in the company’s west end warehouse, the event was moved last year to the downtown ballet studio to give guests a special and stripped-down look at the ballet. Riddle remembers thinking, “Let’s change it up and let people see the behind the scenes of the ballet.” Food for this year’s event, again taking place at the studio, will be from Chef Bobby Benjamin’s soon-to-open Butchertown Grocery, so guests can expect food just as modern and cutting-edge as the art of the ballet.

Party-goers will arrive at the event, which lasts from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., and be greeted by a full bar and plenty of food. Between DJ sets, the Louisville Ballet will take the stage to perform a special 10-minute piece by Artistic Director Robert Curran before they themselves join the party and hit the dance floor with the guests. The fact that the dancers get to partake of the fun is another aspect of the event especially important to Riddle. “They don’t get to party that much because most of them have second and third jobs so that they can afford to live,” he explains. “And this event gives them a chance to have a really good time.”

He also appreciates how this event allows the dancers to mingle with those who support them and their work. “They’re so appreciative of everybody coming and helping them,” Riddle asserts. “And it’s so nice that they get to meet the people who come and watch their performance.” As the dancers don’t ordinarily get to meet ballet patrons throughout the season, Raise the Barre gives them the opportunity to engage with their supporters and hear the words of encouragement that can play a big part in keeping them going.

And of course, the event could not happen without the help of arts-minded sponsors. Riddle is glad to announce that this year’s event features more sponsors than ever before – and it’s no wonder why. “What I’ve always liked about it and what I think a lot of our sponsors like about it is that they know that they are really making a difference in these dancers’ lives,” he claims. “Because these artists really do see a direct reflect from Raise the Barre.”

PrintRiddle looks forward to growing the event every year in order to not only support the dancers but also the ballet as a whole. “We’re not just about ‘The Nutcracker’ and ‘Swan Lake,’” he contends. “We do a lot of contemporary modern ballet now, and it has changed a lot. It is very much so a modern ballet company with great respect to the classics, but also, there’s something there for everyone in our season lineup.”

But at the ballet’s core, these shows can’t exist without the dancers. And while their art is certainly inwardly rewarding, they need the support put forth by Raise the Barre – not only as a fortification for their income but also as an illustration of the dedicated and unwavering encouragement of the community. As Riddle maintains, “You don’t become a ballet dancer to get wealthy. You have to have a love and appreciation for the art itself.”

Raise the Barre will take place on Saturday, September 12. Tickets are available online at www.eventbrite.com/e/raise-the-barre-tickets-18008384563.

From the Sponsors

“When Bruce Simpson and I co-founded Raise the Barre four years ago, our goal was to create an event that would help us support and maintain the quality of dancers that we have at Louisville Ballet. Our own ‘barre’ was high because we wanted to attract loyal and dedicated sponsors that really understood what our goal was. Now here we are four years later, and the sponsors that were with us from the first Raise the Barre are with us every year, as well as new sponsors. And the best thing about this is when a sponsor calls us and asks to be a part of Raise the Barre. I’m so appreciative of these sponsors, and I’m so proud of the dancers of the Louisville Ballet. I promise our sponsors and our guests that we will continue to raise our own ‘barre’ higher and higher! That’s what we do at Louisville Ballet!”
–Douglas Riddle, Bittners

“I applaud Robert Curran and the Louisville Ballet for their effort to give back to our community and for their support of the student outreach program. I became impassioned after watching a troop of high school ballerinas perform. One of the missions of the program is to discover creative problem solving through dance – it’s to find confidence and appreciate who they are and who they will become.”
–Susan Vogt, Rodes For Him For Her

“The Yum! Brands Foundation is honored to partner with the Louisville Ballet and its talented dancers. The Ballet is such a vital, vibrant and significant creative art force in our community, and we are so pleased we can ‘Raise the Barre’ to support these talented artists.”
–Yum! Brands Foundation

“Calobrace and Mizuguchi Plastic Surgery and CaloSpa are thrilled to sponsor the Louisville Ballet each year and participate in the Raise the Barre event. It is our belief that the expression of beauty in any and every form improves all of our lives. There is nothing more beautiful than to experience the incredible creativity, vibrancy and talent of our dancers, and, through this, our entire Louisville community is made richer!”
–Dr. Brad Calobrace, Calobrace & Mizuguchi Plastic Surgery Center and CaloSpa Rejuvenation Center

“As a long time supporter of Louisville Ballet, Highland Cleaners is very excited about the new energy of Artistic Director Robert Curran, who is building on a rich tradition. Raise the Barre is a super fun way to interact with the amazing athletic dancers of the Company in a cool and inviting atmosphere.”
–Michael Jones, Highland Cleaners

“Libby Voyles has been a supporter of Louisville Ballet for many years. She has so wanted us to be involved with Louisville Ballet. When Douglas approached me about Raise the Barre I knew it was the perfect fit. The Whayne family has a tradition with Louisville Ballet, and Raise the Barre will continue our commitment to the dancers of Louisville Ballet. It is the best party of the year!”
–Suzanne Whayne

“Louisville’s arts scene is so rich and inspiring. My team at Butchertown Grocery is excited to share our creative talents in the kitchen with the people helping support this vital cause. The energy and inventiveness of the Louisville Ballet motivates us to bring creative and vibrant food to Raise the Barre as a preview of what’s to come this fall at our restaurant.”
–Bobby Benjamin, Butchertown Grocery

“Brown-Forman is proud to sponsor Raise the Barre. Without local dancers in Louisville Ballet, our arts community would not be the same. Support for this event is an investment not only in local artists but also in the overall quality of life in our community.”
–Brown-Forman

Thanks to all sponsors: Suzanne & Robert Whayne, Brown-Forman, Yum! Brands Foundation, CaloSpa Rejuvenation Center, Bittners, Kentucky Select Properties, Mr. & Mrs. John F. Cunningham, Jaguar Louisville, Highland Cleaners, Trager Family Foundation, Butchertown Grocery, Rodes For Him For Her, Patrick Henry Landscape Architects