TORRINGTON — When the Nutmeg Ballet stepped boldly into its “première position” at a Migeon Avenue studio 50 years ago, founder Sharon Dante knew that some day she would have to provide a convenient way for her students to acquire proper dancewear.
A “petit jeté,” occurred when Dante opened a dance shop in 1992, about 15 years after moving Nutmeg to Water Street in 1977. And when the “grand jeté” occurred — the “great leap” to moving the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts to its grand location on Main Street in 2001 — it was time for the dance shop to come into its own.
Holly Watson, Nutmeg’s operations director and former manager of the Nutmeg Dance Shop, said that before the shop existed, Marge Dante, Sharon’s mother, used to drive to New Haven to buy pointe shoes for students. Marge was a driving force behind the opening of the shop on Water Street and continued her involvement after the move to Main Street. Housed in the former Tunick Jewelers building at 62 Main Street, it is now managed by Carianne Riley, a former student at Australian Ballet School. She and Lori Pagano, a liaison between the children’s Torrington School of Ballet and the Nutmeg Ballet, help with fitting ballet slippers at the shop.
Watson said, “The entity is structured to donate all its profits back to support the Nutmeg. The Dance Shop does not keep those funds. They go back to our students, back to our organization after expenses.”
The shop specializes in pointe shoes and ballet slippers, but Watson said it also carries tap, jazz, lyrical and more. There are leotards, tights and other apparel for men and women, as well as a wide array of nonessential (but fun!) items. Books about dance by local authors — including many by Nutmeg employees — are available.
Retail director Kim McAllister, like many Nutmeg employees, is a former Nutmeg student, starting when she was 4 years old and graduating in 2001. She pursued a career in photography before returning to Nutmeg this year. “Nutmeg has always been a part of me,” she said.
McAllister said, “I love fitting a little girl’s first ballet slippers and watching her walk over to the barre and mirror we have with excitement in her face. It’s exciting to also fit a dancer for her first pair of pointe shoes. They are nervous and excited at the same time.”
She said there is a buzz of excitement and energy that goes through the building. Students are now in rehearsal for “The Nutcracker,” the annual Christmastime production at the Warner Theatre and The Bushnell. “I hear the music that I’ve heard a million times before, but yet I’m never sick of it because I can feel the movements of the dances I danced many times myself. I get the same excitement as the dancers!” she said.
And every year she looks forward to the shipment of nutcracker dolls that are holiday gift-giving favorites — not only among students and their parents but anyone who walks in the door. There are the traditional wooden-soldier nutcracker dolls, much like the one used onstage in “The Nutcracker”; and then there are variations such as mermaids, sea turtles, unicorns, wizards, lamas, and even Darth Vader (but without the heavy breathing!).
Watson said, “We’ll be selling these at the performances, and all proceeds support Nutmeg.”
It is the only local outlet for dancewear, but because it is a part of the nonprofit Nutmeg Ballet, the staff are conscious of its commitment to the community, Watson said. “For example, we have supported local nonprofit fund-raisers such as the Warner Theater’s wine-tasting event and partnership initiatives such as Newspapers in Education. We work with anonymous donors to get Pointe shoes onto the feet of people who can’t afford them. We try to give local discounts to students at every dance school in the area. If they tell us they’re in a dance school, they get a 10 percent discount on required apparel.”
McAllister added, “We’ve helped the dancers at The Taft School be fitted for their Pointe shoes and also get them the items they need for their dance classes. We’ve also helped company dancers from Momix to get items they need for performances. If anyone is looking for a shoe, leotard or dancewear items, we are there to help them get what they need.”
Suzan Scott, the shop’s business and communications manager, looks to the future with ideas on marketing and promotional efforts. Her ideas include updating and managing the website (www.danceshopatnutmeg.com), email blasts, tracking marketing results, implementing a rewards program and more. “We need to be responsive, but responsive in an organized, planned way and then track results,” she said in a recent email.
The Nutmeg Dance Shop is open Monday through Thursday 1 to 5 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. After hours, call 860-482-4413, and someone can usually let you in and assist you, Watson said.
Performances of the all-new “Nutcracker,” with new scenery and costumes, are Dec. 7 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. at the Warner Theatre. Performances at The Bushnell in Hartford are Dec. 14 and 15 at 12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Tickets are available through www.nutmegconservatory.org/nutcracker.