Dear Berkeley Ballet Theater community members:
Berkeley Ballet Theater’s move to a new home is becoming reality. As our organization is poised for change—the biggest we’ve experienced in thirty-five years—I want to share with you some of my and BBT’s story, so that you know what we will carry with us as BBT grows and moves to Tenth Street.
I began teaching ballet when I was fourteen. At the time, I was studying with Dorothy Pring, just two blocks away from the Julia Morgan Theater. Miss Pring had some young students who wanted private lessons and she suggested I teach them. I did, on a little platform in the basement of my parents’ home on 63rd Street in Oakland.
After studying with Miss Pring and teaching in my basement, I went on to dance with Mia Slavenska and New York City Ballet.
I then returned to Berkeley, married, and had three children and ran the Sally Nichols School of Ballet for six years (this time in the basement of my own home). I taught at San Francisco Ballet and guested at the Royal Ballet School in London where I held classes for visiting artist Mikhail Baryshnikov, choreographed for Smuin Ballet, taught and performed with Alan Howard’s Pacific Ballet in San Francisco (sometimes alongside my daughter, Kyra Nichols, before she joined New York City Ballet), and performed with and was ballet mistress for Oakland Ballet Company.
By 1980, I had retired from performing and was teaching in a studio on Solano Avenue when I got a call from Janet Carole. Janet and her husband had started a small ballet school, the Classical Ballet Center of Berkeley, with a modest performing company attached that they called Berkeley Ballet Theater. I accepted their invitation to join them as a teacher. When Janet and her husband moved out of area a year later, I bought the school and company from them, combining them into BBT. I have been teaching and choreographing for BBT ever since.
In our early days, BBT offered morning and evening classes for adults and afternoon classes for small children. We didn’t advertise, but the children’s division grew through word of mouth. Soon we had enough students enrolled to stage a full Nutcracker. My son Robbie joined me and we choreographed our child-centered The Nutcracker.
BBT’s family atmosphere and our culture of inclusivity have remained throughout our history and are, to me, key elements that make our school special. Others are the rigor with which we teach ballet technique and the opportunities we give children to perform. As BBT moves to Tenth Street and evolves under Robert Dekkers’ leadership, these core aspects of our identity will travel with us.
Ballet training has tremendous positive impacts for children. If they take their training seriously, they retain the acquired posture, coordination, and kinetic sense for a lifetime. They develop rhythm, and appreciation of and an ear for music. You can’t miss with it; dance is good for everybody.
Ballet has been the constant center of my life. I have loved being my children’s mother and a professor’s wife, but ballet is my identity. Whether I am teaching
in a Berkeley basement or at The Royal Ballet, at the Julia Morgan or under the skylights at our new studios, I am propelled by the music, by the beautiful precision of helping students find their physical placement, and the joy of helping talented students become dancers. I look forward to sharing all of that with you as BBT moves. Our core will travel with us.
Berkeley Ballet Theater Artistic Director Emeritus
Sally at the Julia Morgan with BBT alumni from the last 15 years!