City Ballet to Close Doors After Rent Doubles

After nearly 70 years, a fixture of the Park Cities arts scene is closing its doors. The owner of City Ballet says a rent spike means they can no longer afford to teach dance.

Evelyn Johnson, who runs the business, has spent the last few days stripping the studio of the floors, ballet bars and pictures documenting performances dating back 69 years.

She said closing was her only option when her landlord sold the building earlier this month, and the new owner wanted to double her rent to $63 per square foot.

"That was the end of the school. I had looked at another space, because I thought that might be a possibility. The rent was doable, but the finish out cost was going to put me in so much debt that at my age in this stage of life, I couldn't do that," Johnson said.

For Johnson, it means the end of a legacy first started by her mother.

"Her passion for ballet was deeper than anything or anyone else I've known. It was escapism for her," Johnson said.

Originally born in Paris, Denise Brown was a Holocaust survivor who originally began teaching classes in her home shortly after she moved to University Park. Soon after, she opened the first City Ballet school just down the block from the current studio on Lovers Lane.

"She didn't see children as talented or not talented. She saw children as possibilities, and children, and that anyone could dance and anyone could feel beautiful as they were doing it," Johnson said.

Between mother and daughter, City Ballet has educated hundreds of dancers across several generations.

Carrie Woodward and her sister followed in their mother's footsteps as students. Now Woodward's 7-year-old daughter has done the same.

"I understand business. I'm a business person. It's just… there comes to be a point where every neighborhood also needs their arts. I feel like it's something that will be a loss for this neighborhood," Woodward said.

Former students will join Johnson for a final toast Sunday night before she hands over the keys.

Though Johnson has said she won't reopen, she said she does hope to rent studio space to continue a couple of classes.

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