Our Spotlight on the Arts for June 2023 shines brightly on Sheryl-Marie Dunaway, dance instructor and owner/Artistic Director of the Ballet Caliente Classical School of Dance.

We couldn’t wait to share Sheryl-Marie’s fascinating story! From age three our featured artist was enrolled in lessons with an acclaimed instructor. By the time she turned 16, Dunaway received a dream invitation to become an apprentice with the San Francisco Ballet Company.

How long have you been involved with ballet?

All of my life! My mother would even tell you that I danced in her womb!

I began dancing with an affiliated Royal Academy of Dance teacher at the tender age of just three years old. At eleven, I attended a summer intensive training session with the San Francisco Ballet and at age twelve I began my first teaching job at the YMCA.  

Subsequently, I spent summers with Ballet West and the American Ballet Theater.  Being a serious student, I attended a performing arts boarding school, the National Academy of Dance, for a portion of my high school years.  

Leaving home at fourteen to pursue my studies is something of which I am questioned about frequently. “Didn’t you miss-out on a ‘normal’ high school experience?” “Weren’t you homesick?” In truth, I missed my family desperately, but I was exactly where I wanted to be as far as gaining experiences that would serve me throughout my life.

I continued my dance training at Southern Methodist University (SMU) where I earned a BA in ballet performance and political science.  Afterwards, I moved to Washington, D.C. to work on Capitol Hill for Texas senator John Tower. Soon after I married my high school sweetheart who had recently graduated from the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

Following that curious Navy man led me on my own adventures around the world dancing, choreographing, and teaching on naval bases both internationally and in the U.S. After a total of 23 Navy moves, rearing a family, and teaching on the plus side of 40 years, teaching is still one of my greatest joys and blessings.  

What have been your past and/or present inspirations?

Being creative is taking time to consider different perspectives. I often find inspirations in nature, objects, and even sound. Sometimes it is a memory or emotion that I simply express through dance. Once I was even inspired by birds on a wire! They reminded me of my tiny students in a dance line that just simply did not have the spatial awareness to spread out.  

My internal metronome speaks to me continuously. I enjoy isolating separate instruments when I listen and then I assign choreography specifically to represent each instrument. In the end, an ensemble dance piece becomes a symphony.  

Do you have a favorite aspect of what you do?

Parents often tell me that they want their child to attend Ballet Caliente to “learn confidence”. I cannot accomplish this task.

I believe no one can teach confidence. However, I can place young students in an environment in which they can succeed through hard work and therefore gain confidence in their abilities. Seeing the beaming faces of my students radiating in confidence because they worked hard to achieve a goal is my reward. Due to their discipline, dedication, devotion, and determination to our art form, these young students will be successful at any endeavor throughout their lives.

What are a few of your interests or occupations that you would like to share with us?

Ballet Caliente, also known as the “Ballerina Barbie Dream House”, is a blessing and a personal dream come true thanks to my husband and to my business partner Tom Watts. It is a unique venue where teachers of character have a common goal to challenge and empower our students.

I have many other interests but most circle back to dance. It is what I do best. For now, I am content teaching, playing with my grandchildren and living on my farm.

Learn more about Sheryl-Marie and Ballet Caliente at links below:

Ballet Caliente will be featuring Peter Pan for their June 2023 performance. Past performances have included Alice in Wonderland (2022), Pastiche (2021), Madeline at the Musee (2020), Where the Wild Things Are (2019), and many others!

Thank you, Sheryl-Marie, for being a valued part of our creative community!

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...

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