Artistic and Executive Director of Tacoma City Ballet By Marguerite Cleveland | Photo by Byeong W. Chae
Tacoma City Ballet was founded by Miss Jan Collum and has been female led from 1955 to the present day. Miss Erin Ceragioli, artistic and executive director of Tacoma City Ballet, continues this legacy through her love and devotion for ballet, making a significant impact on those she teaches.
Q. How does it impact the dancers in the Tacoma City Ballet being part of a company that is woman founded and run since its inception?
A. The positions of founding director, artistic director, and choreographer in major ballet companies around the world have historically been occupied by men, while women usually filled the role of Ballet Mistress. However, up until the 20th century, the male Ballet Master also dominated the art of teaching and was charged with instructing the older and most experienced dancers who performed in the ballet companies.
Here in the United States, we have a unique situation distinct from other countries in that most children who study classical ballet are female. Unfortunately, American culture has historically discouraged males from studying classical ballet and touted this very athletic and grueling artform as one reserved for those of the feminine persuasion. The fact that most ballet students are female accentuates the importance of presenting women in leadership roles as role models and examples of what can be achieved.
In 2022, Ballet Teacher Demographics conducted a survey in the United States and determined that 92.8 percent of all ballet teachers are women, and only 7.2 percent are men. Most importantly, women are also stepping up into key leadership roles in major ballet companies such as American Ballet Theatre (ABT), San Francisco Ballet and Miami City Ballet, to name a few.
Perhaps George Balanchine was right about one thing when he said, “Ballet is woman,” but we ladies have finally been [afforded] the opportunity to show that the ballerina can do more than dance!
Q. Why do you think the Nutcracker Ballet continues to be beloved year after year?
A. When The Nutcracker first premiered in 1892 in Russia, it was surprisingly unpopular. After this regrettable premiere, Marius Petipa, the original choreographer of The Nutcracker, planned to add Act III and premiere the ballet again. However, Petipa was left without a composer upon Tchaikovsky’s death in November of 1893 and abandoned the revision. This left The Nutcracker a short ballet with a simplistic plot that revolved around Christmas and was perfect for entertaining the children.
Amusing children with experiences and gifts during Christmas is a tradition that has been honored all around the world for many centuries. As fate would have it, The Nutcracker was assigned to be the ballet presented during Christmas. With this designation, The Nutcracker went from being the most unpopular ballet in Russia to the most beloved ballet in all the world!
Q. How has your experience as a professional dancer, choreographer and teacher impacted your role as the artistic and executive director of the Tacoma City Ballet?
A. Our minds, hearts and souls are fashioned by our every experience, and especially by every person with whom we come in contact. Since the art of classical ballet can only be successfully passed from human to human, or as we say in the business from “foot-to-foot,” the relationship between the ballet teacher and the student is cherished, most likely, for the rest of the student’s life. Ballet is the language of the body, and the one who gives you the gift of this extraordinary language is treasured in your heart forever.
I honor those who have taught me personally, as well as all my ballet ancestors, by passing on the ability to excellently execute classical ballet technique, telling the stories and tales of history, both near and far, and imparting a true passion and love for the art of classical ballet to the next generation of dancers. The decisions I make as the artistic/executive director of Tacoma City Ballet are most assuredly influenced by these great people whose ballet blood flows through my veins.
Q. How did you feel when Miss Jan Collum, the ballet’s founder, personally selected you to carry on her legacy?
A. In 1955, when Miss Jan founded The Jan Collum School of Classical Ballet and BALLETACOMA, the performing company, she not only created a legacy of excellence in the training and performing of classical ballet in Tacoma, but she also created a legacy of acceptance and generosity for thousands of dancers of every race, color, creed, ethnic origin and sexual orientation.
I came to Tacoma to teach classical ballet at the request of Miss Jan Collum. Before accepting the position, I told Miss Jan that it was my intention to only teach for one season, and then return to my beloved Nevada to work with a ballet school and company to be newly founded. She replied that my plan suited her very well, and that in the meantime I might just learn a few things. I can hardly believe that was 35 years ago!
I will never be able to express the deep love and gratitude I will always have in my heart for Miss Jan. I came to Tacoma just a dancer who had been freshly credentialed to teach due to the inability to dance professionally because of an injury. Under her tutelage, I learned volumes about teaching ballet, choreographing ballet, theatrically presenting ballet, and the business of ballet.
Why me? I sincerely believe that Miss Jan looked for someone who loved the ballet as much as she did and would be willing to be as devoted to the ballet as she was. She always said that teaching ballet and running the company was not a job but a vocation that required complete dedication because it would consume your life.