OLEAN — With a successful first year looking to culminate with ‘An Evening at the Ballet’ on May 24, the new Dancer’s Loft ballet studio is preparing for an even bigger second season.
Laurie Donner, a former professional ballerina with 25 years of teaching experience in the Olean area, opened her studio last September at St. John’s School with one class of advanced students she’d worked with before. Now, eight months later, she has four.
“When the dancers approached, I wasn’t sure I wanted to teach anymore,” she said. “I just decided that I love teaching, and that’s my purpose. Passing along not only the ballet technique but the love of family and belonging and fitting in.”
Donner said she never planned to have a studio to call her own. But when she approached St. John’s and asked if they have a space for her to teach a class in, she found a room that feels right where she was supposed to be.
In one of St. John’s second-floor classrooms, Donner has transformed the space into a personal studio, using barres her husband helped build out of PVC pipes before installing proper ones along the walls. One wall has a large mirror while the others are covered with dance posters and pictures of students.
“I can make my own schedules and I like it. I really love it,” she said. “Who knew?”
Donner trained at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City as well as the Boston Ballet. She graduated from the Florida School of the Arts and attained a professional job with the Tampa Ballet Company. Donner then moved to Miami where she performed with Momentum, Mary Street Dance Theater and Ballet Randolph.
Donner began teaching ballet in Olean in 1997 but began a new journey working with a few private students on her own in the fall of 2021. Focusing on older students at first, Donner is planning to expand classes toward younger and newer students, starting with beginners at 6 years old.
“In this room, I can only put between 10 and 12. Some class sizes will be very limited,” she said. “I’m excited about venturing out on my own, and that’s taken a little while to get to.”
By offering specifically ballet training, Donner said her years of experience sets her apart from other studios that may offer a variety of styles.
“With years of professional experience, Laurie provides a masterclass experience while providing a safe environment for dancers of any level of experience,” said Madison Granger, one of Donner’s students.
“Ballet with Miss Laurie is much more than just dance class,” said Megan Burgess, another student. “She provides individualized feedback and instruction throughout class that directly relates to life outside the studio.”
With her new venture, Donner said she wants to stay in the moment and see what happens. She said she continues to be community-driven — holding a class each summer, “Partnering to Remember,” for Alzheimer’s awareness, a fundraiser walk in October for Alzheimer’s research along with plans to continue Dancing in the Park performances and hold scarves, hats and mittens collections for youth and the underprivileged.
“I really want the dancers to understand that community is a huge part of their growth and giving back to their community,” she said.
Donner expressed thanks to St. John’s Church for allowing her a place to call her own and the Cattaraugus County Living Arts Association for opening up the Ray Evans Seneca Theatre for her new studio’s first performance later this month.
An Evening at the Ballet will see members of Dancer’s Loft present a fresh and unique take on classical ballet at 7 p.m. May 24 on the stage of the Ray Evans Seneca Theatre in Salamanca. All are welcome to this free performance open to the public.
Dancer’s Loft will hold its registration for the 2022-23 season May 7 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at St. John’s School. Classes at six different dance levels will be offered Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for beginners through advanced ballet and pointe.
“The dancers love it, and I’ve tried to create a more warm and inviting space,” Donner said. “I kind of wanted to have it be ‘everybody’s welcome.’ Step into the door and try it. You just don’t know.”
A summer ballet workshop will also be held July 25-28 for beginners for one hour and intermediate to advanced dancers for 1 ½ hours.
Besides her teaching, Donner has a new creative business, Merci Yoyo, selling framed art pieces crafted with wool. She’s also choreographed many Olean Community Theatre productions including “Guys and Dolls, “Funny Girl” and “West Side Story,” as well as staged five ballets.
Donner has been married for 35 years to Dan Donner, who works in technology services at St. Bonaventure University. They have three grown children, one granddaughter and a grandson on the way.