A difficult dance

Port Townsend Ballet founder marks anniversary and eyes the future amidst COVID complications

Luciano Marano
Posted 8/25/20

The debilitating fallout from the rise of coronavirus sent many a fledgling business owner spinning, even Jennifer Hardesty.

And she’s usually pretty good at spinning.

Hardesty founded …

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A difficult dance

Port Townsend Ballet founder marks anniversary and eyes the future amidst COVID complications


The debilitating fallout from the rise of coronavirus sent many a fledgling business owner spinning, even Jennifer Hardesty.

And she’s usually pretty good at spinning.

Hardesty founded the nonprofit all-ages dance school Port Townsend Ballet a year ago this month, never imagining what a trial the ensuing calendar pages would bring. It was always going to be hard, starting a performing arts nonprofit, but to do so during a historic health crisis and the resulting mandatory restrictions was enough to cause even so seasoned a dancer to sweat.

“Ballet is not pleasurable, it’s not an easy, fun thing to do like going to the park or something,” Hardesty said. “It’s really hard work and it’s not for everyone. It takes a lot of discipline ... but like any hard work it’s very rewarding and that makes it enjoyable.”

Tough as ballet is, Hardesty’s most popular class is the 3- to 6-year-old introduction course.

“They kind of thrive with that structure,” she explained. “Especially right now when they’re just home doing nothing. The pool is not open. All of those play-type activities ... a lot of the sports aren’t going on [but] the kids like that structure. They’re so hungry to learn and they don’t want to learn from a computer.”

Hardesty can relate.

She started dancing at Northern California Ballet when she was 7, immediately falling in love with the art. From age 11, she started going to summer intensive programs around the country. Eventually, she enrolled at a prestigious boarding school for ballet dancers in Massachusetts, during which time she performed at the Wang Center in Boston and the Kennedy Center in New York City.  

Hardesty went on to receive a degree in exercise and sports science from the University of San Francisco and helped teach ballet to college students. Afterward, she moved north to pursue her doctorate and eventually work as a physical therapist in Port Townsend.

The ballet school was to be her latest endeavor.

Then, COVID happened.

Not only did she lose a new job for which she’d just been hired due to staff cutbacks, but her work at the dance studio was likewise halted when it was closed from mid-March until June 1.

“I started the studio up as a kind of side project because it’s something I love,” Hardesty said. “But now it’s kind of, aside from my family, it’s my main focus, where I’m putting my energy right now.”

A subscription Vimeo channel allowed Hardesty to keep her students engaged from afar, but it just wasn’t the same. Now, they’re beginning to get back in the studio (898 East Park Ave., Suite 1, Port Townsend), while maintaining all the recommended COVID precautions, and preregistration is open for the fall/winter session (Sept. 1 through Dec. 18).

It’s a victory of its own sort — and one that very nearly didn’t happen at all.

“I’m so incredibly grateful because I have a very generous landlord,” Hardesty said. “He didn’t charge us rent while we were shut down and I know that is not the case for all of the businesses in Port Townsend and I’ve heard some really sad stories. He’s a good guy. I was really grateful for that. I didn’t expect him to do that and I don’t expect him to do it again if it closes down again ... It’s uncomfortable taking that kind of charity, but we didn’t really have any other choice.”

In addition to Hardesty’s own new job, COVID put the brakes on PT Ballet’s inaugural show, too.

“We were going to have our first performance in April and I had 31 students signed up to perform and, of course, that got canceled,” she said. “They were heartbroken because they’d been rehearsing for months and they had their costumes and a lot of the parents had already bought tickets so the kids were so sad.”

Returning students have trickled back since the studio reopened, depending on their individual comfort with the idea of small gatherings. Also, a swath of newbies have signed up, Hardesty said.

“We’re one of the only places that is open right now for kids activity,” she said. “I’ve had so many parents just express how grateful they are to have something so that their kids can have a little joy in lives right now.”

The youngest current student is 3, and although Hardesty said she never asks any adult their age, PT Ballet’s roster includes several adults.

“There are definitely some gray-haired people, some very active gray-haired people,” she said. “I would say that the beginning adult ballet class is an excellent place to start if people are kind of interested in ballet but they’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t know what I’m doing.’ Because it’s really slow [and] the person teaching it right now, she’s incredibly patient.”

Though statistically far fewer males go in for ballet, Hardesty said her courses are not bereft of boys.

“Starting in June, we started a Jazz class and Modern Contemporary as well,” she said, “and we had a boy sign up for a jazz class and I was so excited and he’s doing great.”

At least one other young man has already signed up for a pre-ballet dance class.

“I would love to have more male dancers because it would be fun after all of this COVID stuff to have a pas de deux class, that’s what it’s called: pas de deux, step of two. That’s when you teach the dancers to dance with each other.”

Port Townsend Ballet boats five instructors and classes such as “Beginning/Intermediate Ballet Technique,” “Floor Barre,” “Pointe,” “Intermediate/Advanced Ballet Technique” and “Adult Beginning Ballet,” among others.

For complete schedule and price information, visit www.porttownsendballet.com or contact info@porttownsendballet.com.

Without an increase in enrollment, Hardesty said the future of PT Ballet is sadly certain. She hadn’t been open long enough before the pandemic began to qualify for much of the assistance offered by the government. Having such a minuscule payroll barred her from the rest.

“If we don’t have enough students sign up we just can’t swing it,” she said.


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