A Brief History of Kingsport Ballet

Kingsport Ballet was once Kingsport Guild of Ballet, founded in the early 1980s by Karen Gibbons Brown. It was located on the 500 block of Main Street and featured one large studio facing the railroad tracks and a petite studio on the second floor. The organization was privately owned by Ms. Brown and her husband Henry Brown.

In 1989, with the help of community supporters, they formed the non-profit State of Franklin Dance Alliance (SFDA) – a partnering performing company with a volunteer board of directors. This new facet was a separate entity but enjoyed feeder students/company members for full-length ballet productions such as The Sleeping Beauty, Coppelia, Cinderella and La Sylphide.

Following Ms Brown’s relocation to Indiana, seven parent volunteers called the Parents Coalition organized by Bertina Dew, bought the studio. They immediately conducted a capital campaign to fund renovations of a new facility at 220 Broad Street. Parents Coalition members were Kim DeCroes, Alma Velasco, Mary Ruth Richards, Tracy Cleek, Agnese Goin, Anne Houston and Bertina Dew and later Beano Dessauer. With substantial community support they renovated three studios in 8000 square feet of space. Their common interest of preserving the organization, and continuing to provide high quality classical ballet in the region, motivated them to band together to manage the school until a suitable director could take over. The collective purchase price was considered by all to be a donation.

The Parents Coalition merged SFDA and Kingsport Guild of Ballet in 2001, resulting in a single, non-profit entity: Kingsport Ballet. At this time Bertina Dew led a search for a new artistic director who would replace the interim director in place at the time. Bertina Dew transitioned from board president to executive director and she continued to function as such in a volunteer capacity until 2013, after which time she slowly transitioned into a salaried position.

Valeria Sinyavskaya, former Prima Ballerina with Novosibirsk Ballet was recruited from Tokyo, Japan in the Fall of 2001. Ms Sinyavkaya took her post in January of 2002 and staged The Sleeping Beauty in March of the same year. During her tenure in the following decade the company transitioned to doing three productions each year, staged all of Tchaikovsky’s classics, collaborated with the Symphony of the Mountains, and began performing a yearly Nutcracker.

The company grew its costume repertoire with commissioned tutus from Russia, and staged area premieres such as Giselle, Swan Lake, and Don Quixote in addition to demi ballets, such as Chopiniana (with Symphony of the Mountains) and Paquita. The school grew its teacher base from 3 instructors in 2000 to 9 in 2014, and from 3-5 guest artists each year, to 20-25 by 2017.

Kingsport Ballet is currently housed in a 15,000 square foot facility on Cherokee and Market Streets in downtown Kingsport. The facility features an arts center complete with an art gallery, spacious waiting rooms, four dance studios with sprung floors, a wellness lounge featuring the services of an in-house physical therapist and massage therapist, a costume shop, kitchen, dressing rooms, administration offices and additional arts studios sublet to arts instructors. KbBoutique is a dance supply store contained in its premises, providing related gifts, equipment and attire.  In 2010, when substantial renovations took place at the Cherokee Street facility, the company received façade and demolition grants from the Kingsport’s Redevelopment Board by way of a competitive grant. Services expanded to include daily adult classes in Pilates, Yoga, Tai Chi, adult ballet, and other fitness classes.

Additional renovations took place in July 2013 subsequent to a flood which damaged flooring in the front foyer areas. Volunteers restored the porcelain floor tile original to the building, dating to the 1940s and its origins as the Dixie Maid Baking Company. Archive photos are featured at the entrance of the facility.

The company has been providing substantial outreach services  through the DANCE CO program and the Berezova Scholarship Fund. DANCE CO received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2007. Grant funding grew from $1500 in 2001 to over $39,000 in 2017, and the budget grew to five times its size during the same period. The organization receives general operations and project grant funding from the Tennessee Arts Commission and Outreach support by the City of Kingsport and the Massengil De-Friece Foundation.

Between 2001 and 2017 Ms Sinyavskaya was awarded an Artistic Leadership award by the then Arts Council of Greater Kingsport and the Choreography award by the Tennessee Arts Commission, as well as an Arts Leadership award by the YWCA of East Tennessee and most recently, Distinguished Educator Award by the Tennessee Association of Dance.  Ms Dew is recipient of an arts leadership award from the then Arts Council of Greater Kingsport and the Tennessee Association of Dance as well as a Community Volunteer award from the YWCA of East Tennessee. She is one of one hundred “Women of Impact” recognized by the Junior League of Kingsport in 2017 for their contributions to the community in honor of the City’s 100th birthday.

The organization received a House Resolution No. 95 in honor of its 20th anniversary from the House of Representatives of the State of Tennessee. The resolution lists and celebrates the dedicated commitment of the organization’s staff, board of directors, artists and volunteers and its significant contributions to the quality of life of Tennesseeans and to the region’s arts community. Kingsport Ballet also was part of the Arts and Economic Prosperity Study 5, and was recognized by the City of Kingsport with a certificate of appreciation.

In 2017 Artistic Director, Valeria Sinyavskaya celebrated 15 years with the organization and Executive Director, Bertina Dew, 18 years managing the Kingsport Ballet.