Welcome to Chicago North Shore Moms Local Nonprofit Spotlight, where we highlight and introduce a local nonprofit’s inception and mission. But first we’d like to extend heartfelt gratitude to our Local Nonprofit Spotlight Sponsor, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Thank you Lurie Children’s for connecting a voice from our local nonprofits to our local communities!
This week we are spotlighting Chicago Ballet Arts whose mission is to provide a structured, affordable ballet program with high professional standards. We had the pleasure of speaking with Artistic and Executive Director (and mom), Maliwan Diemer, about what makes this 35 year old professional dance program so unique, and her personal background as a dancer with world-renowned teachers Violette Verdy, Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux. She briefly touches on summer camp sessions and ongoing class options with which you can get your dancer involved! Welcome, Maliwan!
Hi Maliwan! Before we “cut in” (pun intended) please introduce yourself.
My name is Maliwan Diemer and I have the privilege of being the Artistic and Executive Director of Chicago Ballet Arts, a dance school located in Evanston. I was born in Ohio but lived in Thailand and Malaysia before my family returned to the United States. Growing up in multiple countries definitely helped to shape who I am. I currently live in Chicago and have a 2 year old son.
What a cutie! We are excited to learn more Chicago Ballet Arts (CBA) and what makes this such a stellar and unique program for future dancers. What is the mission and when was it established?
CBA was founded in 1986 by Clare Carmichael and is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year! Our mission is to provide a structured, affordable ballet program with high professional standards. In the process, we strive to instill in our students a love of dance, a respect for the classical disciplines necessary in a performing art, and an expanded capacity for excellence.
CBA is proud to offer an inclusive, pre-professional program and we to have classes for ages 2 and up, including adults!
What was the inspiration behind the formation of Chicago Ballet Arts?
Chicago Ballet Arts (CBA) was founded with the goal to provide access and opportunity to any student with the drive and desire to train in ballet. Clare’s son was taking dance classes (fun fact, he went on to become a professional dancer) and she soon saw the need for a program that would offer the rigor and high standards necessary to pursue a professional career, but with the warmth and nurturing environment of a community focused school. She firmly believed that students deserved to have the full experience, including professionally run performance opportunities. CBA has always opened its doors to students of all backgrounds and works hard to remove barriers to training. 35 years later, we are still guided by the founding principles.
What sets Chicago Ballet Arts apart from traditional dance studios?
For me, what sets CBA apart is the balance we strike between the rigor and discipline of a pre-professional program, and the intimate, family friendly, community feel. Many pre-professional programs eventually require auditions or don’t allow all dancers to continue through the entire program. I recently had a new student tell me that when she found CBA, she thought it was “too good to be true.” She didn’t realize that there was a place for a student like her who wanted to train seriously, but in a nurturing, welcoming environment. We work hard to ensure that we are helping each student reach their personal goals. If that includes dancing professionally in the future, wonderful! But if it doesn’t, that is still wonderful and we will celebrate them and provide them with the same high quality training.
Speaking of a welcoming environment, what impact on diversity and equity has Chicago Ballet Arts made on our local communities?
I am proud to say that when we say we want to provide access for all students with the desire to learn, we do mean all. We work hard to remove barriers that are commonly associated with serious training and this has allowed students who would not otherwise have had the opportunity to dance to have it be an integral part of their lives. We are incredibly fortunate to have a scholarship program that was founded through the generosity of Patti Eylar, Charles Gardner, and Jim and Linda Mitchell, which allows us to provide financial support to families in need. We never want tuition to be the reason why a student stops dancing. Even in the very early years of the school, CBA has had a diverse student body. I believe this is directly tied to our mission and our commitment to inclusion. New families often tell us that they came to CBA because they trusted we would provide a safe space for their child. As a bi-racial, woman of color, I feel a strong sense of responsibility to continue our rich history while finding ways to improve and grow. Because the work doesn’t stop. We are just one small drop in the bucket of change that must take place for the larger dance world to truly be inclusive.
We love that messaging, thank you. And how did you personally get involved in this Chicago Ballet Arts?
I began working at CBA in 2007. I was brought on to start a performance group for the most advanced dancers and soon began teaching classes as well. In August of 2020, I moved into a new role as Artistic and Executive Director. I know. In the midst of a global pandemic! But I, like many creative types, I like a challenge. I have a BSOF in Ballet and Political Science and a MA in Arts Administration, both from Indiana University. As far as my dance education, I started when I was 3 and was incredibly fortunate to have some truly incredible teachers along the way including Violette Verdy, Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, all of whom danced for George Balanchine, founder of the New York City Ballet.
What is the most rewarding aspect about being a part of the Chicago Ballet Arts mission?
By far the most rewarding aspect for me is developing relationships with the students and their families and helping them meet their goals. Whether or not our students decide to go on to professional dance careers, I know the skills they are learning will serve them beyond their time at CBA. I get to sit back and proudly watch as they move into adulthood and with each of them, I see direct evidence that dancing at CBA made a meaningful impact. We have alumni that have gone on to a wide range of wonderful careers but what is truly special is how many of them stay connected to the school years after graduation. In fact, we have alumni who currently work for us and even some alumni who now have their own children enrolled! It really is a family and I cherish that.
What programs are open for students at Chicago Ballet Arts?
Chicago Ballet Arts is wrapping up our first school year in our new home in Evanston but we have a lot of exciting things coming up! This summer we have intensives and workshops for ages 8 and up that are designed to give students a truly action packed week of dancing, along with ongoing classes in a variety of dance styles. We are also working on some new initiatives to engage children in Evanston’s 5th ward and share our passion for dance with the community. Then, in the fall, we are looking forward to expanded class offerings and more performance opportunities for our students. We can’t wait to get them back on stage and hopefully in front of a live audience again!
Is there anyone you’d like to thank for the success of Chicago Ballet Arts?
There are so many people to thank for our success, including our talented faculty, accompanists and staff, and dedicated board members but the credit really goes to the students and their families who have supported the school over the years. So many of our families have volunteered (and continue to volunteer) time and energy in countless ways. What we do wouldn’t be possible without them.
How do our readers contribute or volunteer their time?
As a nonprofit organization, we can always use volunteers. From assisting with productions (costume construction, backstage crew, ushers, room parents, etc)., to fundraising events, to day to day assistance, there are many ways to get involved. Donations in support of our scholarship program are also greatly appreciated.