Tutus and Hard Hats

Gwinnett Ballet Theatre's new home in 20,000-square-foot facility off Sugarloaf Parkway will rival some of the best dance facilities in the Southeast.

The walls are still unfinished, but this building is already filled with hope and joy.

The Gwinnett Ballet Theatre opened the doors to it new home in Lawrenceville Thursday to let supporters and the community see their vision for the future.

In June, GBT announced it would be relocating from Snellville to a 20,000- square-foot facility at 1800 MacLeod Avenue, right off of Sugarloaf Parkway. It features five studios and a long list of amenities. The new location is near Gwinnett Center in Duluth where GBT presents performances.

“The medium-sized studio is as large as our biggest studio in Snellville,” said GBT’s Holley Calmes proudly as she begins the tour. Four excited young dancers come along wearing their leotards, dance shoes and hot pink hard hats.

The girls in the group are giddy about the new facility. One of the features they hope to have will be two baby grand pianos in the large studios. Right now, they practice using pre-recorded music. “It’s a different kind of energy with live music,” said dancer Kendall Greene, 17, of Lawrenceville.

Another improvement is the addition of locker rooms. At their current home in Snellville, the dancers only have two small bathrooms with just toilets and sinks. At the Lawrenceville location they will have showers, a row of sinks and changing rooms for both the male and female dancers so they can freshen up after hours of rigorous rehearsals.

The young dancers spend a good deal of time at the studios. As soon as they get out of school, they head over to the GBT for practice and stay there until eight or nine in the evening. That’s why the new snack room is so important. It allows them more room to store their stuff and prepare and eat healthy meals.

While they are dancers, the young men and women are students first. That’s why this group on the tour is excited about a room in the front of the building that is designated as the Board Room. However, the board only meets once a month, so the rest of the time it will be used as a study room so the dancers can keep up with their schoolwork.

“Before we either had to go in the lobby or hallway, and you can’t focus,” said 17-year-old Emma Duke of Norcross. Now they will have a quiet place to work and not as many distractions.

Other features of the new building include a costume shop on-site. Now parents who volunteer will have plenty of space as they clean, mend and refit the outfits worn by their children on stage. There will even be a washer and dryer in the room.

The building also includes a set shop large enough for sets to be built in-house. In the past, students at Gwinnett Technical College helped build sets for shows such as “Cinderella.” Now that the GBT will be located across the road from Gwinnett Tech, they hope to work with the school on other projects.

GBT’s Board Chairman Leonard Diprima hopes the new location brings new awareness of GBT to the community. “Where we were in Snellville was kind of down in a hole. It wasn’t very visible,” said Diprima. He hopes people driving down Sugarloaf Parkway will see the signs and want to learn more about GBT, enroll their children, and support their programs.

Artistic Director Wade Wathall is eager to complete the construction and welcome the next group of young dancers. GBT is signing up students for classes in classic ballet, modern dance, jazz, tap, and Hip Hop. Classes are available for adults and children.

“I’m just really taken with the whole thing,” said Wathall. “It’s turned out so great. It’s really been an undertaking. I’m glad to see it coming to fruition here.”

At the open house, supporters of GBT scribbled notes of well wishes onto the bare floors of the dance studios. They will stay there forever after the flooring is installed so dancers can leap and twirl over the words of encouragement.

GBT expects to finish construction and relocate to the studios this fall.

What words of encouragement would you like to give the young dancers? Tell us in the comment section below.


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