Dancing Under the Star

by Jacqueline Moon

Roanoke dancers, movers, and expressers of self, it’s time for you to rejoice.

Open now, in a massive, gorgeously renovated historic space in the light of the Mill Mountain Star, is the permanent home of Star City School of Ballet. Once housing the cafeteria of American Viscose Corporation’s Roanoke rayon plant, the 15,000-plus-square-foot space has been modernized and sculpted into an ideal artistic learning environment.

For those who aren’t familiar with the school, which has been training children and adults in ballet and other types of dance for more than twenty years (under the name The Dance Centre of Southwest Virginia prior to its move), this isn’t your typical ballet studio. It’s more of a conservancy, where students come to learn dance the way professionals do: with discipline, hard work, and respect. And the students love it.

“Here, we provide necessary structure,” said Pedro Szalay, co-owner of the school with his husband, Mark Shepheard. Just like before learning to read and write, one must master the alphabet, or before becoming a chef, one must understand the basics of foundational flavors and culinary terms, students at Star City School of Ballet are given the base upon which their dancing futures can be built. The foundation of ballet, Szalay said, when constructed with a focus on correct terminology and awareness of space, is perfect preparation for any other form of dance.

Not only is SCSB the best place in Roanoke to study dance, its new, welcoming digs serve as a home-away-from-home for its students. A common room, outfitted with ample study space and a kitchen, provides students with a place to relax before or after class, to do homework, or to socialize with their friends.

“This is a place for anyone in the community,” Szalay stressed, “not only dancers.” The building includes a yoga and Pilates studio, as well as a conference room that can be rented for meetings or birthday parties. While the interior of the building has been spruced up and recreated, the color scheme remains intentionally neutral. “The space doesn’t need a lot of color,” said Szalay, “because the beauty comes from the dancers.” And methods of bringing about that beauty include more than ballet: Russian character dance, flamenco, modern dance, tap, and more are also taught at SCSB.

Szalay is one of the instructors at SCSB, and has been teaching dance in Roanoke since 2006. He is the artistic director of Southwest Virginia Ballet and the creator and instructor of Dance Español, which brings lively dance instruction to area elementary schools. Szalay, who is originally from Venezuela, is quick to point out that he hasn’t accomplished everything single-handedly. “My father always said that you can’t do great things on your own. You need other people,” he said. With the support of others—his former dance company in Richmond, his husband, his students, and his fellow instructors—Szalay has created the Roanoke Valley’s eminent professional dance studio.

Star City School of Ballet partners with other Roanoke arts organizations to offer the best artistic experiences possible. The school collaborates with Opera Roanoke, the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, the Taubman Museum of Art, Southwest Virginia Ballet, and others. Szalay is also excited to bring in local individual musicians to provide accompaniment for dance productions.

Current students include kids, teens, nurses, parents, office workers, alumni, and newbies to the craft, some traveling to classes from as far away as Martinsville and Buena Vista. Classes are available for beginner to advanced dancers, and for ages as young as three. SCSB provides an assessment to determine at which level a student should begin. Head to their Facebook page or website (starcityschoolofballet.com), or call them at (540) 387-1410 to learn more about class schedules—including the upcoming summer intensive series that will feature amazing guest instructors. And take a drive to check out the new spot (1005 Industry Avenue, building 7A, Roanoke, 24013). You will be glad you did!