Last October, Michelle Lebowski was watching her peers during an open class at Santa Monica's famed Westside School of Ballet when a thought began to weigh on her mind: "I have a lot of beautiful friends who are really talented dancers," she says. "But I kept wondering, why don't they have jobs?" This struggle led Lebowski to found Ballerinas of Los Angeles, a new networking group, slated to hold its first in-person event on February 9.
Those familiar with the Los Angeles dance scene can empathize with the 23-year-old L.A. native. Even after years of experience and pre-professional training at the Joffrey Ballet School, Colorado Ballet and Indianapolis Ballet, Lebowski wasn't able to sign with an L.A.-based commercial agent as a dancer without hip-hop experience. "In L.A., hip-hop is such a force—which is a great opportunity for a lot of dancers—but it sort of leaves the rest of us ballet dancers displaced," she says.
In recent years, companies like Los Angeles Ballet and American Contemporary Ballet have managed to secure support despite the city's lack of a strong ballet tradition. But how do freelance ballet dancers in L.A. land those few coveted company or project-based gigs? Or how do artists potentially meet collaborators to create new opportunities in a town that's notoriously sprawling and isolating?
Lebowski sees the problem as stemming from a lack of community; she hopes that Ballerinas of Los Angeles will change that. The project stems from an effort to increase visibility, and create a virtual and physical meeting place where Southern California–based dancers can network, meet new collaborators and gain knowledge of the field.
Lebowski started with an Instagram account, a place to repost photos and videos of various L.A.–based dancers and friends. Awareness was the name of the game, and since its inception in October the group has grown into a network of roughly 1,000 artists. "As a professional ballet dancer in L.A., I have found so much strength and comfort in the community of dancers," says Chelsea Johnston, a former soloist with Los Angeles Ballet who's a member of Ballerinas of Los Angeles. "I'm sure all of us can identify with how exponentially better it feels to go into a large audition alongside a friend, or walk into a casting call or meeting having been referred by a fellow dancer," says Johnston. "We are all in this together and I feel so strongly that growing our "we" is vital to advancing and preserving the art form."
Michelle Lebowski. Leo Evidente, Courtesy Lebowski.
This weekend, Ballerinas of Los Angeles will move from social media to an IRL meet-up with its inaugural event: Ballet and Coffee. "Together we will not only dance," says Lebowski, "but express our passion for ballet, meet possible new colleagues, discover new photographers for your next photoshoot and meet directors and choreographers." Specifically, the event will feature a class taught by commercial choreographer and former State Street Ballet soloist Chasen Greenwood, followed by a networking hour with guests such as photographer Oliver Endahl of Ballet Zaida.
To join the community, connect with Ballerinas of Los Angeles on Instagram, or attend Ballet and Coffee on February 9 from 11:30 am-2 pm at Align Ballet Method, located at 6085 West Pico Blvd.