Published in the Asheville Tribune and Weaverville Tribune, January, 2017
By Heather Berry
Name: Ann Dunn
Profession: CEO and artistic director of the Asheville Ballet. Dunn founded the Asheville Academy of Ballet and Contemporary Dance, originally named the Fletcher School of Dance. She is also a full-time faculty member at UNC-Asheville where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in medieval history, the Renaissance, art, religion and Shakespeare. Dunn was named “Most Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award in Humanities” at UNC-Asheville for the 2006-2007 school year.
Family: I have five children and 11 grandchildren.
Can you tell our readers about the two ballet organizations? The Asheville Ballet is our non-profit, professional ballet company. It’s the oldest non-profit ballet company in North Carolina. The Asheville Ballet does an entire season annually. Then, we have the Asheville Academy of Ballet and Contemporary Dance. The Academy trains dancers. I bought the Fletcher School of Dance in 1996 with its building downtown from the Fletcher family. The Fletcher School of Dance had been here since the 1940s. I united the two major dance companies in town: the Asheville Ballet and the Land of Sky Civic Ballet. It was very exciting to me to bring those two together. I, then, decided I wanted to pull back a little bit and really focus on ballet and modern dance.
What’s your dancing background? I’m a classically trained ballet dancer from the New York City School of Ballet. I was a principal dancer at the Hartford Ballet. I studied modern dance with Martha Graham personally and also with Merce Cunningham personally.
What classes do you offer at the Woodfin studio? Our classes are open to the public. We train dancers who want to keep their dance options open in their lives for college with a serious dance conservatory program, or straight into another dance company. Currently, we have a 12-year-old going into the Kirov Academy of Ballet this summer. We produced the first American to join the Kirov Ballet in Russia, right here. We’ve sent people to the New York City Ballet and various ballet companies around the country and also modern dance companies. We offer good modern dance training as well.We focus on ballet, modern dance and jazz as well. We don’t do so much a razzle-dazzle, rhinestone style of jazz, but more a broadway-based, technique-based type of jazz. We also do some supportive courses like pilates to develop the core. These courses are all open to the public. I think our oldest student is in her 70s. We offer beginning adult ballet for anyone who has never taken ballet, but would like to try. Our youngest class is for age 3.
What brought you to the Asheville area? I was raised in an around New York City. When I was a little girl, I lived in Raleigh for a while. My grandmother lived in Oakridge, Tennessee. This was before Eisenhower made the thruways. So, we had to drive straight through Asheville to get to my grandmother. As a small child, bouncing around in the back of a 1947 Plymouth, we would go down what was then Broadway in Asheville and it was lined with these big mansions, trees and rhododendrons. I don’t care what time of year it was, Asheville was just beautiful. It remained a kind of heaven-like place in my mind. I got older, had my career and wanted a family. I didn’t want to raise my children in New York City. A lot of people do, but I had a childhood where I was able to run around in the woods. Taking a child to a cement playground didn’t work for me. I left New York and formed my own company. I went through a divorce and started a new company in South Bend, Indiana, which is still thriving. I found I was doing less creating and more paperwork. I decided we needed to go somewhere smaller and start over. I remembered Asheville. I came here in 1980. I thought it would be big enough to earn a living and small enough to raise a family.
What do you like about being a small business owner in Woodfin/Asheville? I like a lot of things here. I like the nature. I like that I live a mile from the studio. I like I’m close to UNC-A where I have a full-time job. I’m close to the grocery store, the pharmacy and everything. The studio downtown began to grow too big. I guess I have a sort of Daniel Boone syndrome. My family lived downtown above the studio. I sold the building downtown and moved the studio here about 10 years ago.