At the start of class, a group of adults pick up ballet barres and move them to the center of the dance studio. They begin stretching on the floor, some with their hair in neat ballet buns and leotards, others in workout leggings and t-shirts. The class represents a group of people from all walks of life—some with former professional dance experience, some who haven’t danced in many years, and others who want the adventure of trying something new. 

(Gradient Dance Theater & Community/Facebook)

You’ve entered a ballet class offered by Gradient Dance, a dance community that was formed from two independent projects from their two co-directors, Joanna Hardy-West and Taylor Ostronic. Hardy-West initially focused on providing performance opportunities to dancers in Birmingham, while Ostronic focused on providing learning opportunities for Birmingham’s growing adult beginner population. “Both of these celebrate the unique voices that exist in Birmingham in a way that encourages dancers to come as themselves,” says Ostronic. Their mission emphasizes that anyone and everyone can dance and that each person has a unique voice they can bring to the dance floor.

(Gradient Dance Theater & Community/Facebook)

This type of company is unique to Birmingham. “We really try to value multiple styles of dance,” Ostronic explains. “So many organizations specialize in one style, which misses the chance to really blend and celebrate all of the movement styles that exist.” The company offers community classes in ballet, contemporary, hip-hop, and tap, among others. You can stay up to date with upcoming classes on their website’s class calendar

To simultaneously offer community classes as well as performance opportunities is certainly a feat to be proud of. “I am proud that we keep our mission of letting other people be the front of the room and congratulate them on successes whatever they might be,” Hardy-West says. “A  goal of ours is to grow the dance community and we do that through building up others and not shutting people out.” Ostronic echoes this sentiment as she reflects on what these classes mean for dancers who may feel out of practice, “I really enjoy hearing how our classes are welcoming people back to dance and how meaningful it is for people to have the chance to perform.” 

The company has multiple upcoming events and performances. You can see them perform at the North Alabama Dance Festival in early March, or catch them at their show in June 2024, where they will be developing their own interpretation of the classic story “The Tortoise and the Hare.” They invite children ages 10-18 to audition and participate in the performance. 

Lastly, Gradient is welcoming Alonzo King LINES Ballet back to Birmingham for a second year of LINES Exploration Lab. This event gives the Southeast essential access to a top-tier contemporary ballet company and valuable audition opportunities.

For more information on Gradient Dance, their mission, founders, and where to find them next, visit their website here.