"To be a great city, you need to have great art," says Vanessa Bessler, the Artistic Director and Founder of the Children's Ballet of San Antonio

Youth America Grand Prix Award Winner Emma Hurtado performs a sissone on Houston Street. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio 

This is a philosophy she holds close to her heart, and one embodied by the young talent she witnessed when she moved to San Antonio eight years ago. Traditionally, younger dancers are limited in their opportunities to take on roles due to a perceived lack of experience. But after five years teaching classes, Vanessa took action. "I decided to open a children's company where everybody can audition for all the roles," she explains.

Artistic Director and Founder of the Children's Ballet of San Antonio Vanessa Bessler was the principal dancer of the National Ballet in Panama. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio 

Vanessa herself began dancing at an early age. When she was four, she was enraptured by a production of The Nutcracker in her home country of Panama. She immediately asked her mom to take her to dance lessons. Before long, Vanessa began studying at the National Ballet School of Panama and by the time she was 21, she was the principal dancer in the country's National Ballet. Later, she earned a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet School in New York and pursued a Masters in Business Administration at Barry University in Miami.

After coming to San Antonio and beginning to teach ballet classes, Vanessa felt inspired by the dedication of the young dancers. She says that to this day, the continual progression of her students is the most rewarding part of her career. "The mission of the Children's Ballet is to inspire the pursuit of excellence," she explains.

Students at the company range from 3 to 19 years of age, and all are afforded the opportunity to take on the challenge of a stage production. For Vanessa, it's simple: "If you have the skills, you can aspire to a higher role."

Lucy Hassmann performs Fish Ballet Lift on Houston Street. Lucy is competing in the International Ballet Competition later this year in Jackson, Mississippi. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio

The importance of the Children's Ballet for the community is the opportunity for children to inspire other children, she says. It's through this that an appreciation of art is instilled early on. "It helps to develop individuals into people with vast knowledge of the international world of the arts."

One way the company is displaying its appreciation for international arts is in an upcoming show at the Majestic Theatre on June 1-2.
Don Quixote de San Antonio is a show that takes a classic piece of Spanish literature and sets it right here in San Antonio during the early 1900s. It will be an official Tricentennial event, displaying the cultural and artistic traditions of the city.

"It collects our daily lives and our most beautiful traditions," says Vanessa about the show, "San Antonio has such a rich culture, a mix of many backgrounds, and bringing that to the stage is celebrating who we are."

Students rehearse at The Dance Center of San Antonio for their upcoming performance at the Majestic Theater in June. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonios

The children in the company have taken advantage of expressing who they are as well. Vanessa has noticed that each student takes their performance beyond the simple steps and movements by interpreting and personalizing their characters. Ballet is an art form not because of its physical execution, but the emotions brought out through individuality.

Though the company is only three years old, members of the Children's Ballet have already taken our city to national and international levels. Every year, dancers at the Children's Ballet are awarded scholarships for summer and yearlong programs at the finest training centers in the country. The number grows every year, with 22 awarded in 2017.

Ballerinas rehearse at the Dance Center of San Antonio this week for their upcoming performances in June. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
Ballerinas rehearse at the Dance Center of San Antonio this week for their upcoming performances in June. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
Ballerinas rehearse at the Dance Center of San Antonio this week for their upcoming performances in June. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
Youth America Grand Prix Award Winner Kate Thomas rehearses with Ballerino Luis Javier Corrales at The Dance Center of San Antonio earlier this week. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio

This past April, four students (Kate Thomas, Lucy Hassmann, Mackenzie Kirsch, and Emma Hurtado) won awards at the Youth America Grand Prix. Kate, Lucy and Mackenzie represented San Antonio at the New York finals. And Kate made it to the final round, dancing alongside the top 25 dancers in the world. In June, Lucy will represent San Antonio at the International Ballet Competition, commonly known as "The Olympics of Ballet" in Jackson, Mississippi.

Youth America Grand Prix Award Winner Mackenzie Kirsch dances with Ballerino Luis Javier Corrales at The Dance Center of San Antonio earlier this week. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio

"The power and the drive of these children who are achieving so much is important for the city," says Vanessa. The young talent at the Children's Ballet is helping to raise the city to an international level in the fine arts. Vanessa's dream is that someday, children from all parts of the city and from every school will have the opportunity to participate in the Children's Ballet, building a new legacy of artistic excellence in San Antonio. 

"San Antonio has such a rich culture, a mix of many backgrounds, and bringing that to the stage is celebrating who we are."

Vanessa Bessler Artistic Director and Founder of the Children's Ballet of San Antonio

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