Amherst Ballet is a non-profit dance school located near downtown Amherst, Massachusetts. We offer classes in ballet as well as other types of dance to students of all ages and levels. Amherst Ballet (AB) was founded in 1971 and is a non-profit organization (501(c)3), overseen by a volunteer Board of Directors and administered by an Artistic Director, a Business Manager and volunteer staff. AB offers classes in ballet and other forms of dance to students of ages 7 years and up. All of AB’s classes are taught by instructors who are accomplished, experienced and well-educated.
With a conviction of the value of dance in our society, and a commitment to quality dance education, Amherst Ballet seeks to build a diverse and inclusive community of dancers and dance enthusiasts through educational programming, performance and community partnerships.
Amherst Ballet was started under the name of the Amherst Ballet Center by Therese Brady Donohue in 1971 upon her arrival to the area. Despite being forced to move a couple of times, the Center quickly grew in number of students. In 1976, Donohue founded the Amherst Ballet Theatre Company to give young dancers the opportunity for professional performing experience as well as to bring to young audiences an awareness of dance through educational programs in schools and communities. Unlike the Center, the Company was a non-profit organization run by a volunteer Board of Directors from the community. Two years later, Donohue purchased a house next to Wildwood Elementary School and with the help of her students and their families, she built two studios adjacent to it. This house has been the home of Amherst Ballet ever since.
In 1988, Donohue established the Amherst Ballet Theatre School that offered previously-trained dance students between the ages of twelve and seventeen a complete dance education with performance experience by high school graduation. The school existed as a separate entity until the year 2000, when it was merged with the Company into a single non-profit organization. Succeeding from Donohue, who stepped down from the position that year, Catherine Fair served as Artistic Director for the subsequent ten years and produced a number of original performances. In 2006, with the help of generous donors led by Al and Norma Geller, grandparents of a dancer at the time, Amherst Ballet obtained the building it was housed in. After Fair departed in 2011, two more talented Artistic Directors, Sueann Townsend and Molly Stamell, served Amherst Ballet.
Ever since its founding, the Amherst Ballet Theatre Company has promoted and maintained close ties with local people and has contributed in creating an inclusive community centering around dance. All of the directors have consistently collaborated with musicians and composers in the area and produced not only artistic but innovative original performances. The company also has a long history of engaging in outreach activities at schools, public libraries, and nursing homes in and around Amherst. Moreover, while the school has been successfully training those who pursue dance as their career, it has also been a place where dancers of all levels, ages, genders, and body-types can improve themselves to their wants and needs.
Founder, Therese Brady Donohue
Trained at the Washington School of Ballet in Washington D.C., the Princeton Ballet with Audrey Estey, the Royal Academy of Dancing in London with Ruth French and Elaine Archibald, and the College of Notre Dame of Maryland in Baltimore with Alma Loth Wolf, Donohue excelled in choreography and was chosen to attend the National Association of Regional Ballet’s Craft of Choreography Conferences several times. In 1971, she moved to Amherst and founded the Amherst Ballet Centre and cofounded the Pioneer Valley Ballet Guild. She further established the Amherst Ballet Theatre Company in 1976 and the Amherst Ballet Theatre School in 1988.
During her tenure as the director of the Company, Donohue led frequent elementary school performances all over New England, advancing the mission of bringing “to young audiences an awareness of dance through educational programs,” in addition to the annual performances in concert halls. She also took the Company on several international tours to Europe. Amherst Ballet owes its initial success to Donohue. She was a rigorous, non-compromising teacher who cares deeply for her students. She was a pioneer businesswoman, very likely the first to own a business in Amherst. Most importantly, however, she was a talented artist skilled not only in choreography but also in costume designing and mask making. She often transformed the stage into a fantastical world with dancers’ elegant movements enhanced by innovative masks and costumes.
After her retirement from Amherst Ballet, Donohue has shifted her creativity to puppets and has since founded the Picture Book Theatre, where she designs and directs colorful performances for children which brings to life books by favorite picture book authors living in New England.