City Youth Ballet keeps dancing after 90 years

Jessica Fuller • Jul 16, 2017 at 9:14 PM

A sign greets City Youth Ballet students every time they step into the studio for rehearsal.

It hangs above the archway that opens into the dancing space, and has for the past seven years that the studio has occupied the building at 3501 W. Market St., and the buildings that have housed the school before that. It’s a modest sign, black and declaring the entrance for Holloway Dancing School. The years have etched a few cracks into the sign, and hundreds of students have passed beneath the sign to dancing lessons over the decades.

The sign is a remnant of the 90 years City Youth Ballet has been teaching students in the area. It adorned the first home of the school in 1928, when two sisters brought classical ballet to the Tri-Cities.

Reese and Wilma Holloway introduced the Tri-Cities to classical ballet in 1928 by opening the Holloway Dancing School of Johnson City. Reese, a dancer, and Wilma, a pianist, began what is one of the oldest ballet schools in the state, and the oldest continuously running dance school in East Tennessee.

“They used to have productions at the old junior high theater that was downtown and at the John Sevier ballroom,” said Sean Foster, who now manages the school with his sister, Cassandra White.

The sisters ran the studio for decades, and even took students to New York City every summer for a few weeks until the 1970s to study with dance luminaries like Andrew Eglevsky and Igor Youskevitch. Reese opened a second Holloway Dancing school in Kingsport, which was sold upon her retirement and is no longer affiliated with City Youth Ballet.

Wilma passed the reigns to her daughter in 1992, Susan Pace-White, who was at the helm of the school until she died earlier this year. Foster and White, the third generation of the family, are now managing the school into its 90th year of teaching.

The school went through several name changes – from Holloway Dancing School of Johnson City to the Johnson City Ballet Company to City Youth Ballet and landing on Holloway Dancing School, home of City Youth Ballet formally. In addition to several name changes, the school had several homes over its 90 years, notably one inside a home on East Watauga. Pace-White tried out a few new homes for the school during her time as director, finally moving into its current location in 2010 for the high ceilings that the home on East Watauga lacked.

A handful of professional dancers have passed through the school over the decades, and several ballet notables like Gelsey Kirkland of the New York City Ballet and Anna-Marie Holmes of the Boston Ballet have come to Johnson City to teach aspiring dancers.

While some students that attend CYB have turned professional, and White says she and the other teachers will do what they can to help any student reach that level, CYB has existed over the years to teach any and all who want to learn to dance whether to ignite a professional career or just for fun.

Going forward into the 90th year, White said she is looking to add more classes like Yoga and pilates to continue in the direction on which the studio was set by her grandmother and great-aunt and continued with her mother.

“Mom always wanted to strive to make things better, so that’s what we are continuing to do,” she said.


Email Jessica Fuller at jfuller@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.

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