Atlantic City Ballet's 30th anniversary

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Six dancers perform a 1920's swing dance routine. Six dancers perform a 1920's swing dance routine.  

It’s been said time flies by in the wink of an eye. But in this case I have to say at least from my point of view time flew by remembering the many rehearsals for the Nutcracker. The show was produced by Phyllis Papa with a ballet group known as Atlantic Contemporary Ballet Theater.

It all started when my youngest son Stuart came home from school and said he saw a dance about a bird and he wants to take dance lessons. I had no idea what he was talking about. I called Central school, there were two separate schools back then and they told me the name of the person who performed the program. I tracked down the company and eventually Phyllis who told me the dance was Swan Lake and she was starting a ballet company. Stuart insisted on checking it out and he liked it. Maybe the thought of being on stage was more to what he was thinking. For many years after that our family life revolved about getting Stu to dance classes on Tilton Road every week. He was harassed about doing ballet but that is another story. He was the youngest boy in the class. The rest of the guys were in their mid-20s. The girls were more Stu’s age. When fall rolled around it was Nutcracker season. Auditions were held and Stu always played one of the youngsters in the ensemble dance numbers. Phyllis had a world of patience getting everyone in the right position plus all of the costumes and various scenes to go smoothly. Stu danced with Phyllis for many years, eventually getting the part of the Magician in the opening number. For awhile during the season he saw more of her then his family.

I’ve seen Phyllis over the years at various functions and the company has had many changes but she is still the force behind its creativity. During those years she has managed to raise three beautiful daughters who dance as well as their mother. A few years ago my grandson Josh had a small part in The Nutcracker. But it was a one-time gig for him.

When I saw that Phyllis was about to celebrate 30 years I had to go reconnect. The company has a new name, Atlantic City Ballet, but still the driving force behind it is the same person. The 30-year celebration was held at Resorts Casino Hotel. It seems Resorts was always in the background of the struggling ballet company through all the years. When Phyllis met Dennis Gomes over a year ago he suggested she hold the celebration at Resorts. The costs for the whole event, which was also a fundraiser for the ballet company was covered by Resorts. In her opening remarks prior to the June 9 show Phyllis mentioned her thankfulness to the late Dennis C. Gomes and for all the support he has shown throughout the years for the company. The company is now known as The Atlantic City Ballet.

The show that night was a mixture of what people think when they hear ballet but this time it incorporated a 1920’s theme as well. It also featured what the hotel could have looked like back then. Several of the dancers portrayed the era of the hit series, "Boardwalk Empire” with shady looking male and female characters. There was even a segment they bought back when Frank Sinatra played in several of the casinos. What surprised many was the comical ballet segment, not normally keeping in character with the ballet with a Charleston number thrown in for good measure.

The show was called “Caught Up in the Swing,” it did just that for the audience as they were caught up in a show that had a little bit of everything to please the audience.

The dance company now has 22 members from all over the world. A far cry from what I remember when just a handful of full time dancers did the various shows she had performed over the years. I‘m sure the new members of the company will have as much success as former members have had. I’ve seen some of those former dancers in show rooms in various casinos in the city. One of the former males is a dancer in Resorts screening room show on the 13th floor. The show is called "Divas in a Man's World." I have heard that a few have even opened up their own dance studios. With Phyllis Papa as their former teacher they had the best possible background to start off with.

As for my son Stuart he went on for a brief while dancing with another company and even won a few ribbons in contests but he ended up in back of the stage instead of on it. He went to Rutgers in New Brunswick for theater majoring in lighting and now does stage lighting in California. One of these days he hopes to come back to where it all started for him but this time to be the lighting designer for one of Phyllis Papa shows.

Photos by Fred Fabel

A dancer who portrays a mischievous child during the opening act. A dancer who portrays a mischievous child during the opening act.

A dancer who portrays a mischievous child during the opening act. A dancer who portrays a mischievous child during the opening act.

Dancers attired in 1920s costumes display their dancing form as wealthy hotel guests. Dancers attired in 1920s costumes display their dancing form as wealthy hotel guests.

Ballet company dancers take their bows before exiting the stage. Ballet company dancers take their bows before exiting the stage.

A couple swing dance in 1920's costumes.  A couple swing dance in 1920's costumes.

Three dancers take their bows.  Three dancers take their bows.

Two members of the dance company acknowledge the audience applause. Two members of the dance company acknowledge the audience applause.

Two gangsters, machine guns in hand, and their moll dance in 1920's style.            Two gangsters, machine guns in hand, and their moll dance in 1920's style.


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