What does it take to launch a brand new, out-of-the box contemporary dance company in Sarasota, home to long time Sarasota Contemporary Dance and The Sarasota Ballet Company?

Ask Kate Flowers and Martin Roosaare the founders and directors of the non-profit professional dance company called Azara Ballet. They bravely started this organization with the ultimate goal to uplift people through dance, incorporating an inclusive culture into the mix. “Unfortunately, Ballet culture as we have traditionally known it comes with some unhealthy elements, one of which is the struggle with body image and subsequent eating disorders,” says Kate, who struggled herself when she was a professional ballet dancer in Ohio after training for a year with the famous Joffrey Ballet School in New York City when she was 16 years old.

Martin Roosaare, co-founder and dance partner, adds, “we are fervently dedicated to revitalizing ballet culture, infusing it with a profound emphasis on the mental and emotional well-being of the dancers. At Azara, we wholeheartedly embrace the celebration of body positivity and the kaleidoscope of individuality, including those who are neuro-divergent.”

Judging by the overwhelming support of those who attended their performances this past season, Azara Ballet was embraced by the public with open arms. Flowers proudly reports:

– There were over 1000 attendees between their 3 productions
– Azara received 235 five star reviews out of the 242 attendees who filled out a survey
– When describing the performances, most attendees used words like:
Breathtaking, joyful, inclusive, innovative, exciting, emotional, unique, beautiful, heartfelt, inspirational, groundbreaking, moving, powerful and more… 

Having made their mark in the Sarasota community, Azara Ballet is radiating a resolute commitment to breaking new ground as trailblazers for representation and inclusivity. Their dancers have a variety of body types and shapes, and there is a comfort zone when the dancers are on stage performing, each and every one confident about themselves and self-assured. That confidence is shared with the audience, who recognize the new ballet “stars” on the block.

Perhaps equally as important (and part of Azara’s mission) is their outreach programs that extend a welcoming embrace to neurodivergent communities, fostering artistic expression and enriching lives through the universal and unspoken language of movement. The Haven is one of Azara’s outreach program that offers movement and dance classes to children with disabilities to enhance their quality of life. To date they’ve mentored up to 16 children once a week his season, and since expanded their program to another organization catering to the needs of children, teens and adults with disabilities called, Easter Seals. 

Another outreach program that is immensely popular is at Resilient Retreat, where they work with those affected by trauma and abuse. They also work with 10 Parkinson patients each week, incorporating dance.

“Azara Ballet is a human experience beyond entertainment. It speaks to our souls through real life experiences.” – Sciddi Abdalla, Azara Audience Member

So what do you do when your groundbreaking first season is an amazing success? You start plans for yet another better – and bigger ballet season. And you hold a Gala to celebrate and raise the funds needed to showcase their talent in the next season. Their Gala is planned for April 21 at Harvest House Life Enrichment Campus. 6pm-9pm, with an open bar, dinner and a formal attire requested. Buy tickets here for Azara’s Gala.

As an admirer and supporter of Azara Ballet, I have come to know Kate and Martin on a personal level and can attest to their passion, dedication and love for both the Sarasota community and for the art of contemporary ballet. Sadly, Kate was challenged at the height of the dance season this year when her mother, Carol, was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer. It was a miracle that she made it through the season. Kate used the emotional aspects f the situation to move forward as her mother wanted her to do, continuing the performances this year and pouring all of her energy into dancing. “My mom is an artist herself most of her life and just said, ‘keep going.’

She did. And we applaud her efforts. Please support them by attending their Gala or contributing funds to their vision and their work. Buy Gala tickets here. Join other philanthropists in Sarasota who support their mission financially: Barancik Foundation (180 K grant over period of two years)l Flo Johnson Singer Foundation; Community Foundation of Sarasota (for their Parkinson’s Outreach Program). See Azara’s short video here.

The photo says it all. A child with special needs participates in Azara Ballet’s outreach program. Happiness exudes!
Andrea Mastrocinque-Martone is Sarasota Event Calendar’s Chief Editor. She is the former A & E Editor for Sarasota Observer Newspapers and is currently a public relations consultant. www.Insightfulpr.com