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  • Founders of local ballet company, school prepare for transition after nearly four decades

    Nov 16, 2016 | Read More News
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    When some of the student dancers with the Young Artists’ Community Ballet Academy take the stage for Ballet Continental’s annual holiday classic “Nutcracker” in December, they will have trained under the school’s first new leader in nearly four decades.
    Lisa Baker DiGiacomo and her spouse, Guy, started the school 37 years ago in the 100-year-old schoolhouse building once known as the Continental School. It now serves as a community center operated by Pima County’s Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Department.
    Lisa Baker DiGiacomo and studentsThe dance company Ballet Continental and the ballet academy are the primary occupants, though they share space with a satellite office of the University of Arizona/Pima County Cooperative Extension

    Nick McLain, who grew up in Sahuarita and Green Valley taking classes with DiGiacomo, took over running the school late this summer. Lisa continues to serve as artistic director for Ballet Continental, Guy as president of the board and McLain as a board member.
    But it’s in these humble surroundings — where sprouting seedlings share space with barres and ballerinas — that the focus is dance.
    A transplanted Texan who hasn’t totally lost her drawl, DiGiacomo came to Tucson to attend the UA. She and Guy met in 1977 when they started carpooling from Tucson to their teaching jobs in Sahuarita.
    DiGiacomo was on the committee that built the Green Valley Performing Arts Center. That love for the arts, coupled with her desire to give the students she was seeing in the classroom a creative outlet, led to the formation of the school.
    “I was a dancer and I knew what it did for me,” DiGiacomo recalled. “It gave me such confidence.”
    Ballet Continental was an outgrowth of the school, offering current and former students a chance to perform outside of class. This fall, they staged a production of Coppélia. Dec. 2-4, they’ll perform the Christmas classic, the Nutcracker, at Sahuarita Auditorium, 350 W. Sahuarita Road.
    School Director McLain, who juggles his duties with the Young Artists’ Community Ballet Academy with a full-time job in Tucson and classes at the University of Phoenix, doesn’t anticipate making many changes in the school’s operations.
    “It’s such a well-oiled machine,” McLain said. “We want to emphasize clean technique and good dance instruction at an affordable price.”
    The school currently offers 31 different classes ranging from ballet to hip hop to jazz for students age 3 to adult. Learn more about enrollment options at 520-326-7887.

    Some of the academy’s students have gone on to dance professionally. Others, like UA student Julia Bacchus, grew up in Sahuarita taking classes at the school in ballet, tap and jazz. Today, she still takes classes and teaches hip hop and modern dance to younger students.
    “They have such a family connection here,” Bacchus said. “There’s a sense of joy. Lisa brings such a great atmosphere.”
    “Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation appreciates very much the partnership with Lisa and Guy DiGiacomo these past 37 years,” Kelly Cheeseman, recreation program manager, said. “They have been the ideal tenants, bringing the art of classical ballet into a rural community that might otherwise not have the opportunity to experience the grace, beauty and discipline that comes from this fine art.”