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Interview with Noel Pipkin-Founder of Barre Belle

Noel Pipkin-Founder of Barre Belle Photo Credit: Noel Pipkin

Noel Pipkin is an excellent example of pouring positivity into the community. Her passion for ballet has opened doors for girls in underserved communities the opportunity to learn the art form. Noel was introduced to dance at the Abington Arts Center and Cheltenham Center for the Arts in Pennsylvania. She also studied the Vaganova technique, a ballet instruction developed by Russian ballerina Agrippina Vaganova, with Mary Geiger at the Geiger Ballet Studio in Michigan. Noel was awarded a scholarship at Eisenhower Dance Detroit and received a minor in Dance from Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

Combining her passion for the art form and seeing a need in the community, Barre Belle was created. Barre Belle is a portable dance studio that offers classes for elementary and middle school students. The classes introduce ballet fundamentals and are especially for those with little to no previous ballet or dance training. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Noel to learn more about the organization.

As the founder of Barre Belle, what was the inspiration to start this organization?

After graduate school, I wanted to give back in a way that I connected with. Growing up I was often the only dancer that looked like me in my classes and competitions. Ballet has always been a huge part of my life. It was my minor in college. I trained pretty hard but decided I wanted to do something else career-wise. I was volunteering with my church’s outreach group and we were working with an underserved community. I asked the leader of that community what was the biggest need and she said transportation. You don’t think about Charlotte as a city where underserved families need transportation to and from different places.

I thought, how do I connect these two things, my love for this and my ballet passion? That’s where the idea came about for a portable studio where I can go places in the community where the kids already are. There is already bus transportation from the schools with the organizations we partner with. I looked for portable ballet bars and tried to find grant opportunities. I looked for donors that shared the same passion for ballet and underserved students. We started with one partnership and now we have six. We have five different class offerings. This past year we added Yoga to help students deal with anger management and be able to set boundaries. We have two Yoga classes and three ballet classes during the week all at our community partner locations. We have five teachers including three interns at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and two certified Yoga instructors.

With your ballet training and background, what lessons and values have been learned that you try to instill in your students?

Most of the students have never taken ballet. A lot of times when they try something like a new step, they will say “I can’t” after trying it one time. That is the one thing we discuss from the beginning. Instead, say “we will try”. It’s not that you can’t it’s you can. You train your mind to try something new. Practice makes permanent not perfect.

What are the most fulfilling and challenging aspects of your work?

The most challenging aspect comes with coordinating several classes with our various community partner sites. I love that we are expanding in so many areas but sometimes it can be hard to manage it all at once. Also making sure that our classes are consistent and serve students in a way that meets them where they are and for them to also enjoy it. The most fulfilling part is watching students move on after our classes continue with ballet. I have students that have auditioned and been accepted to the Charlotte Ballet REACH program. One of my students was a soldier in the Nutcracker Ballet. That was a full circle moment to know that after our classes they still have this passion or desire to continue their ballet training.

What do you see in the future for Barre Belle?

We are hoping this year to offer a summer camp at a different site where students can do other fine arts and yoga. Eventually, a brick-and-mortar site where we have one studio location in addition to our community partner sites. The board is thinking about how to fundraise and expand our reach. How to attract more teachers and interns. We will continue to grow and are excited about it.

If you would like to learn more about Noel and Barre Belle, please visit https://www.barrebelleballet.org/.

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