2012 Mayor's Awards for Excellence in the Arts: Denver Ballet Guild

Every year since 1986, Denver has recognized creative individuals and organizations that make an artful impact on the community with the Mayor's Awards for Excellence in the Arts. The 2012 winners were recently announced, split into three new categories: Youth Arts, Entrepreneurial Arts and Impact Arts.

The winners will be honored at the Mayor's Awards for Excellence in the Arts reception on November 15 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. In the meantime, Westword has been profiling the winners. This final installment is devoted to the recipient of the Youth Arts award; the Denver Ballet Guild.

See also: - 2012 Mayor's Awards for Excellence in the Arts: Denver's Art District on Santa Fe - 2012 Mayor's Awards for Excellence in the Arts: Emmanuel Gallery - Photos: 2012 Mayor's Design Awards honor homes, breweries and restaurants

The earliest forms of the Denver Ballet Guild can be traced back to 1958, when it started out as the Denver Civic Ballet Association. For about twenty years various ballet organizations operated independently around town -- but in 1978, the Denver Ballet Academy, Denver Civic Ballet Guild and Denver Civic Ballet Association re-organized, with many of their former members joining what's now known as the Denver Ballet Guild.

This is when ballet as we now know it in Colorado began to take form. The Guild introduced a rendition of the Nutcracker that's since become a holiday tradition, and signature divisions of the Guild started to pop up around town. Some of them, such as Les Cygnettes, still operate today.

Under the Denver Ballet Guild, youth ballet flourished. The Young Dancers Competition, which offers students the opportunity to further their dance education through performance, was founded in 1981; seven years later La Bal de Ballet -- which was originally founded in 1969 -- began to recognize boys who had made an impact in the community and at their schools. Former Guild president and committee member Pam Gatz describes Le Bal de Ballet as "the major fundraiser that fuels the Guild."

Throughout the '90s and into the early part of the last decade, the Guild created an endowment trust to supplement annual fundraising income. It also introduced a very successful fall fundraiser, A Taste for Dance, as well as the Showcase of Dance program, which uses the organization's funds to offer live performances in a traditional setting for roughly 6,000 schoolchildren each year.

For the Showcase, "the Guild rents a theater for three days and brings 1,000 kids in twice per day to have dance companies perform," Gatz explains. "It's truly amazing to watch some of these younger kids walk in the theater. They've never been in a performance theater before. The lights come on and they gasp."

Today the Guild has more than 600 committee members who promote the art of dance across metro Denver. Over the last fifteen years, the organization has awarded over $800,000 in grants to professional dance companies around town; it's also awarded countless scholarships to dancers between the ages of 10 to 18 through the Young Dancers Competition and honors high school seniors who, according to Gatz, "have shown excellence in the community," at the Le Bal de Ballet Presentation and Dinner Dance every year in June.

To fund its ongoing dedication to ballet around town, the Guild -- a non-profit organization -- relies on donations. It also regularly hosts competitions, fundraisers and dance performances, many of which have become annual traditions in the Guild community. The Guild even has its own cookbook that Gatz says was created by "telling all of our members to send us a recipe and put a little sentence or two about how it was used. Maybe it was their grandmother's favorite turkey dressing or something they put together for their mother on Christmas Eve. It was just a fun thing we decided to do."

After three decades, the Guild is stronger than ever. Gatz thinks this level of prosperity is a reflection of the organization's policy that doesn't let members "stay on the board too long," yet at the same time encourages "many of the longterm members to remain active in discussions. So we have that thread of tradition and continuity while bringing in newer members to energize it a little."

They were definitely energized by the news that the Guild had received a Mayor's Award. "We were very pleasantly surprised," Gatz says. "It's nice when you put in a lot of work that you feel is very important to the community, and get this affirmation that someone else thinks it's really good too."

Here's to thirty more years of Mile High ballerina battements.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Kalen Deremo
Contact: Kalen Deremo