Bountiful ballet school founded in 1973 still standing strong, helping to fulfill dreams

By Emily Mabey Swensen

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, May 14 2013 6:35 a.m. MDT

Sandra Swensen (left) and Kate Ostroski

Alyssa Bertelsen, Bountiful School of Ballet

BOUNTIFUL — When Kate Ostroski and Sandra Swensen met at the University of Utah in 1972, they were both graduates of the university’s ballet program, and both had opportunities to dance professionally. That might have seemed an easier option than founding a ballet studio, as only about 5 percent of all U.S. businesses were owned by women at the time.

“I remember sitting on the lawn and saying to Sandra, ‘I want to open a ballet studio, but I don’t want to do it alone,’ ” says Ostroski. Swensen had the same desire, so in 1973 they opened Bountiful School of Ballet. It began as a tiny studio with a menagerie of square mirrors on the wall.

“You had to look at yourself in pieces, because we had no money and couldn’t afford full mirrors,” says Swensen. “We had so few students that I taught one girl private lessons for an entire year because she was the only student her age.”

Forty years and thousands of ballet students later, Ostroski and Swensen have a very successful and well-respected ballet studio. They have succeeded by staying true to the two core values they established in the beginning: a pure, classical ballet focus and a commitment to nurturing all types of ballet students at an affordable price. Along the way, they have withstood major changes in the dance world.

Cati Snarr, children’s ballet mistress at Ballet West, says what makes Bountiful School of Ballet unique is its continuity.

“Kate and Sandra have been there for 40 years, and they have stayed true to a classical ballet syllabus. I am always impressed with their students. When our 'Nutcracker' casts a Clara from Bountiful School of Ballet, we know she will come with a full, clean and articulate ballet vocabulary.”

Over the past few decades, this kind of quality ballet training has not always been valued.

“We saw a dip in enrollment for a while as cheer schools and competition dance schools popped up,” says Megan Ostroski Ware, Kate’s daughter, who grew up at the studio and now teaches there.

“For a while, many studios were relying less on ballet. But it didn’t work. Most recognized that the lack of ballet foundation was hurting the overall quality of their dancers. Our enrollment eventually picked back up, and has remained steady.”

Ostroski and Swensen’s second priority, to nurture all types of ballet students, means valuing all students, regardless of body type or ballet potential.

“Most of our students will never be professional dancers,” says Ostroski. “That’s not our goal. We want them to have a good ballet foundation for whatever dance they want to pursue, or even just so they can choose good dance studios for their own children someday.”

This supportive attitude toward all dancers has prompted Ostroski and Swensen to take a unique approach to the many competing extracurricular activities of today’s children.

Ballet West’s Snarr says most strict ballet studios require their students to commit to ballet five or six days a week, at the expense of all other activities.

“Bountiful School of Ballet is unique because they have chosen to support their students in doing a lot of other things, like cheerleading and drill team,” says Snarr. “They say, ‘come three days a week, and we’ll give you all you need to succeed in whatever else you want to do.'"

Jan Whittaker, whose Bountiful High School Mandonelles drill team has won the state championship five years running, has worked closely with Bountiful School of Ballet.

“We work together well to accommodate the girls’ schedules,” says Whittaker.

“I want to be able to encourage the girls to keep taking ballet because the two programs work side by side to help produce fabulous dancers.”

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