When Lindsay DiGiuseppe decided to open a dance school in 2005, she knew she wanted it to be welcoming for everyone. This meant steering clear of old cutthroat ballet program stereotypes and instead working to foster a positive, nurturing environment for dancers of all genres, levels, and ages. Fast-forward to 2021, and the dance world has come a long way in making these strides. But 16 years ago, Lindsay was a visionary before her time.
A Dallas-raised professional ballet dancer herself, Lindsay was dancing with a local nonprofit company at the time. But growing up, she took several other forms of dance too, including jazz, hip-hop, tap, and contemporary. She taught dance at different studios around town, merging her passions of dance and teaching. So when she saw an opportunity to start her own dance school in the city where she grew as an artist, she was ready.
“I always wanted to create a place for kids to take [dance] where they got great training and technique,” Lindsay says, “but also that was a positive environment for them.”
That environment came to life as Contemporary Ballet Dallas, opened originally in Lakewood with programs for both kids and adults. Over the years, she, as director, and her team of instructors added more dance genres. She also created company dance programs for talented dancers who wanted to take their art to the next level and compete or even work toward their own dancing careers. That’s the beauty of Lindsay’s dance school, and something that she wanted to ensure she provided — a place where there’s something for everyone, from the true beginner who simply wants to have an artistic outlet to the advanced dancers perfecting their pirouettes.
Armed with a robust offering of ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop, contemporary, and more, the school moved to its current, more central location on Mockingbird in 2013, with multiple mirrored studios outfitted with different flooring best suited to each genre. Lindsay encourages students to get a well-rounded dance education while focusing on the technique they most enjoy, something, she says, that’s unique to dance schools. Some of her students compete, some perform at dance festivals, and some even come back to teach at Contemporary Ballet Dallas years later. “It’s kind of neat to see how that happens,” she says. “It’s full-circle.”
Now, the school welcomes hundreds of kids and adults each week, under the tutelage of 30-plus professionally trained teachers. Of course, the pandemic forced Lindsay to suddenly pivot and adapt last year, which meant devising and producing live online classes as well as wearing masks for in-person classes. She knew they needed to keep the instructor-student connection alive, so all online classes were taught live, instead of prerecorded. “Most people are back in-person now,” she says. “But my teachers have been awesome this whole year. They’ve done an amazing job, teaching all the kids. I’ve always had a great team of teachers, but everybody has been so supportive to each other and so willing to adjust.”
Lindsay teaches, too, but with two daughters and wearing many hats as school director, she leaves most of the class instruction to her experienced team. Those classes run the gamut from the Kinder Program for kids as young as 18 months to ballet-tap combo for different age groups to the Recreational Program ages 6 and up to the Pre-Professional Program ages 9 and up to the Adult Dance Program with different techniques — most of which offer mainstage performance opportunities. Dancers can audition for the company program around age 10 or 11, and company dancers have multiple performance opportunities throughout each year. This fall’s classes for kids begin August 16 (sign up now), and Holiday show auditions will take place in September.
The adult program, with morning, evening, and weekend classes, is unique because there’s a mix of novice and expert. Some start at the basics level and keep moving up. “In Dallas, there are a ton of adults who want to learn dancing,” Lindsay says. “It’s really neat to see how it transforms them, like in the way they hold themselves and the way they talk to you. I’ve seen how it just gives them more confidence.”
Part of that confidence comes from the fact that dance is inherently expressive, but not in the typical way other sports are. “A really great tennis player will yell and grunt when playing,” she says. “They don’t have to look good. With dance, you have to look like you’re not trying or doing anything, because you’re performing too.”
Whether a student is a kid or an adult, they don’t just have to stick to one thing. Versatility is a key element of Contemporary Ballet Dallas training, something that Lindsay says is rare among dance schools.
“I think our school is unique in the fact that we offer all the different techniques and levels, and we want dancers to be versatile overall,” Lindsay says. “We stress that it’s important to take different techniques. I want them to learn good technique but also for it to be a positive environment for them.”
Lindsay was only 25 years old — teaching around 22 classes and working 70 hours a week — when she first opened the studio, and she says she’s learned a lot about running a school in the years since. Now, Contemporary Ballet Dallas is a well-oiled machine, and people flock to experience its dance magic. “Back then, a lot of it was trial and error because I was young and I’d never run a studio before,” she says. “Now, I want the programs to keep strengthening and growing. I think there’s a lot of room for growth, and we’ve got a lot of new people coming in,” including, she says, students who don’t live nearby and want to continue with online classes.
No matter the format or technique, dance can be a powerful life teacher. Lindsay believes it helps people of all backgrounds learn discipline, preparation, time management, grace, poise, rhythm, and musicality, in addition to reaping the obvious health benefits. For kids, dance can also help improve schoolwork. For adults — and kids — it can change their entire quality of life.
“One guy lost 30 pounds,” Lindsay recalls. “He said, ‘I have muscles now that I never had before; I was just taking dancing, and I’m not even going to the gym anymore.’ So it’s pretty cool to see how it affects people. Dance doesn’t just teach steps — I’ve seen people be transformed.”