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Ballerina and visionary leader Kate Flowers has a mission: Dancing with a purpose.
Recognizing that ballet dancers have always been at a high risk for developing body image issues and eating disorders that damage their self-esteem, Flowers sought to change this by forming a new nonprofit ballet company in Sarasota called Azara Ballet. Having experienced a severe eating disorder herself (anorexia) for two years that led to drug abuse at the young age of 16, the former Joffrey Ballet trainee had an “ah-ha” moment in her Life Journey many years later and channelled her energies into introducing Sarasota to a new ballet company that represented a safe place for dancers.
The name “Azara” was chosen after she researched a 1700’s Sarasota map where she saw the name “Zara Zota” – the original name for Sarasota before the early settlers changed the name to Azara. “Ironically, the name is a loose translation ‘a place of dancing’ so I rearranged some letters and came up with ‘Azara’. I chose the name because it’s unique, like our ballet company,” says Flowers.
Originally from NYC, but having bounced between Sarasota and Ohio in her adult life, Flowers moved back and settled into Sarasota in 2020 with her partner, Martin Roosaare. Martin is a professional ballet dancer and choreographer, originally from Estonia, with 22 years of ballet dancing experience, and is now her fiancé and Azara co-founder/director. With Roosaare to lead the direction of Azara, two missions become paramount for the dancing duo:
1) Solicit dancers of all ages and body types who will provide high-quality dance experiences for audiences while making a positive impact on the community through its educational programs.
2) Raise awareness of, and bring the art of ballet to individuals who are “neurodivergent” – people whose brains work differently from what is considered “typical.” This can include people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dyspraxia, and other neurological or developmental conditions.
Roosaare tells Sarasota Events Calendar editor he considers himself “neurodivergent” and hopes others who have the disorder will find joy and a sense of belonging through their respective passions.
Azara ballet is surely the rising star of ballet companies in Sarasota. “Azara ballet is different than any others because we want to be “body positive, “ and “inclusive of non stereotypical body types,” says Flowers. “I tried unsuccesfully to fit into this ‘perfect ballet mode’ when I was a young dancer at the Joffrey Ballet, so moving forward we wanted to create an environment that is a safe place for our dancers to feel valued accepted and celebrated for their unique individuality.”
How did they do this? They held an open audition (via social media) calling for all body types, heights, backgrounds. “We don’t want the dancers to look “all the same,” which is what other ballet companies look for, says Flowers.
Azara Ballet debuts at the Neil Performing Arts Center on November 17, 2023 at 7pm & November 18th at 2pm and 7pm. Azara Ballet will perform two mainstage productions: “Expressions,” a collection of four short contemporary ballets, and “Short & Suite,” a holiday-themed show that combines excerpts from The Nutcracker and other classical ballets with contemporary works. The ballet pieces will be choreographed by four people (one, a Juilliard graduate). There will be 14 men and women dancers, ages 21 – 34 – joining them for their inaugural season, some from Sarasota and others from Michigan, Utah, the UK and other areas.
$35 general admission, senior discount, student discount (or group discounts, 10 or more). https://www.azaraballet.org/performances
Azara Ballet differentiates itself from other ballet companies because of their strong focus on storytelling that is emotionally relevant to the NOW (2023). A lot of the movements are rooted in ballet technique, but Azara adds the contemporary style to it and the audience will feel “touched” when you see the shows.
The company’s mission is to “elevate lives through the transformative power of dance” and will perform a variety of classical and contemporary ballets, as well as original works. The company also offers a variety of educational programs, including classes for children and adults, outreach programs for underserved communities, and a professional training program for aspiring dancers.
Flowers is a passionate advocate for dance, and she believes that it is a powerful tool for transformation. She is committed to using Azara Ballet to create a more inclusive and equitable dance community. She is also committed to providing high-quality dance experiences for audiences of all ages. Azara Ballet’s Community Outreach Programs include:
Atypical Dance Initiative
Bringing the joy of dance to autistic and neurodivergent communities as a non-verbal form of expression through ballet classes
Brains, Balance & Ballet
Providing modified ballet classes to people with Parkingson’s and other movement disorders to enhace their lives both physically and emotionally.
This program focuses on making the art of dance accessible to under-served communities by bringing inspiring shows to LGBTQ youth centers, assisted living facilities and more.