Grooters is growing the Ballet Theatre of Des Moines
Signs and banners are cropping up all over town. They portray a dreamy-eyed blonde girl named Clara with the words “The Nutcracker, presented by Ballet Theatre of Des Moines” emblazoned across the top. Dec. 5 through 7, the dance troupe will perform its second production of “The Nutcracker” at Hoyt Sherman Place under the artistic direction of Julie Grooters.
When Grooters moved back to Des Moines in 2000, she did not intend to start a dance company. She had grown up in West Des Moines and wanted to be a professional dancer from an early age.
“When I was 5, I wanted to be a heart surgeon during the day and a ballet dancer at night,” she said.
From that time on, dance became a bigger and bigger part of Grooters’ life. Back then, Central Iowa had a professional dance company, the Des Moines Ballet, or Ballet Iowa as it was later called. Grooters grew up working with professional dancers, first in the children’s roles, then in the corps de ballet. She graduated in January of her senior year of high school, and at age 17 joined Ballet Iowa. In 1992, when Grooters was 19, she joined Birmingham, Ala.-based Ballet South. She then moved on to the Eugene Ballet in Oregon. That company merged with Ballet Idaho, moving her to Boise, and she and the troupe traveled extensively at home and abroad. In 1999, Grooters discovered she was pregnant and realized the life of a professional dancer was not conducive to the kind of family life she wanted. She finished the run of the show she was in, then began planning to move back to Iowa.
“I wanted my children to be closer to their grandparents and their cousins,” she said. “The closer I got to my due date, the more I wanted to be here.”
She flew home a week after giving birth to her son, Jayden. Her husband, Michael Frantz, drove the family’s belongings to their new home. Frantz is technical director for Hoyt Sherman Place and a lighting designer. Grooters opened a dance school, School of Classical Ballet and Dance. They now have a daughter, Kaya, as well.
While operating her dance school, Grooters began to see what effect the lack of a professional dance company had on the community. Students had only a vague idea of what it meant to be a professional dancer. When she was growing up, she had had both the motivation of perhaps working for Ballet Iowa some day and role models within the troupe who showed her exactly the level of dedication and skill was necessary to attain that goal. Some of her students claimed they wanted to be professionals, but they also opted to miss rehearsals for parties or hair appointments.
“When I was a student, you were at rehearsal no matter what,” Grooters said. “Well, if you had a temperature of 102, of course you’d stay home, but other than that, you were there. The professional dancers were getting paid to be there, and you didn’t want to waste a minute of their time. And if you weren’t at rehearsal, there was someone else who was dying to take your place.”
Grooters wasn’t the only one who saw the need. She gathered some like-minded friends, community members and parents of students and began planning Ballet Theatre of Des Moines. It uses pre-professional dancers, who dance more than 20 hours each week, and hires professional dancers to fill key roles. Within five years, Grooters hopes to have four professional dancers on staff and build slowly from there.
“We’re not professional, yet,” Grooters said. “Ballet still has to overcome the stigma of financial doom. We’re committed to fiscal responsibility.”
In fact, the organization has written a ban on deficit spending into its bylaws, and thus far all its workers have been volunteers. Donations are on the rise, but some companies that had been major donors for Ballet Iowa are “gun-shy” about getting involved with Ballet Theatre of Des Moines. Grooters says the organization must prove that it won’t overspend and that it can contribute to the community.
“It is our goal to involve, educate and inspire children,” she said.