The Verona Youth Ballet formed in 2005 as a vehicle for dancers of all ages and levels from studios throughout the Verona area to perform annual Nutcracker suites through the Rhapsody Arts Center which began its holiday arts programs at the Verona Performing Arts Center that year, with just three dancers and two dance pieces. With the support of the Verona Area Chamber of Commerce, the Nutcracker has now grown to become an independent presenter of the Hometown Holiday Artists Showcases, with over 80 dancers in a suite of dances from the Nutcracker Ballet. Proceeds from the performance benefit the Verona Food Pantry, and all staff are volunteers.

The hour-long Nutcracker performance, supported by scholarship, space, costuming and production grants from Ballet U, Kehl School of Dance, the VACC and other local businesses, features performances by children, adults, amateurs and a number of seasoned professionals. With past appearances by 13-year old Youth America Grand Prix 2010 medalist Elizabeth Pischel as the Sugar Plum Fairy and UW-Madison Dance Education grad and New York company director Ella Rosewood this family friendly show has delighted audiences with its energetic dancing, shimmering costumes and fascinating Tchaikovsky score.

The Verona Youth Ballet’s mission is to promote the education of area dancers and dance audiences through professional quality dance classes, health and fitness seminars, free outreach programs and regular performance opportunities. Many dancers, representing a nearly a dozen local studios, depend on the generosity of local businesses to provide scholarships for their year-round dance studies.

Founder and director Charmaine Ristow has a long history of developing dance education programs in the Madison area. Ristow is a lifelong dancer who enjoyed an international professional career with the Wisconsin Ballet Company, Swedish National Ballet and Milwaukee Ballet while also earning a degree in special education, performing in a dozen countries, owning and operating several Madison studios, and lecturing in the UW-Madison Dance Department. She has co-founded several dance organizations, including the original Madison Nutcracker, Kanopy Dance, Madison Civic Ballet and MetroDance, Inc. Ristow’s professional experience includes training with internationally renowned artists, performing with Rudolf Nureyev, coaching students who have been accepted into numerous national and international companies, and consistently educating dancers and dance audiences about safe and effective technical practices through professional-level performances and freelance seminars. She is also a certified preschool teacher, Pilates instructor, personal trainer and nutritional counselor. More about Ms. Ristow’s background can be found at balletu.com.

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