It started out as a family affair 57 years ago, when Mary Ellen Pofahl formed the Gainesville Civic Ballet and has stayed that way ever since.
The company expanded to become a professional company, Dance Alive National Ballet (DANB) by hiring contracted regular dancers to be part of the mix in October 1988. Now the dance corps is about to offer even more with its plan to build the Dance Alive National Ballet Arts Center.
“This will be great for the community,” said Kim Tuttle, 77, Pofahl’s daughter and executive artistic director. “Three dance studios, three music studios, an art gallery, a black box theater that will seat 200 and everything that goes along with it. It will really be a true arts center, and it is something the community does not have.
Tuttle’s sister, Judith Skinner, is choreographer in residence, and godmother to the son of Susan Scannella, who recently joined the extended family team as Dance Alive executive director. Everyone is excited about the company’s future.
“We have outgrown our present location,” Tuttle said. “Our present location is Pofahl Studios, and we have been there over 50 years with just two studios.”
Dance Alive has access from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the ballet school takes over from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., Tuttle said.
The new Arts Center will be located at the corner of NW 34th Street and NW 39th Avenue, which Tuttle called the geographic center of Gainesville. When the center opens, it will operate as a non-profit with other non-profit arts organizations having access along with Dance Alive.
Tuttle said the City Plan Board has already approved the zoning change, although it still awaits approval from the Gainesville City Commission. She hopes that will come later this summer. Then DANB will own the property, Tuttle said.
In all, she said costs are anticipated to be between $5 million and $6 million to build the facility as conceived, and about half the funds are already committed or pledged.
She said keeping DANB in the community is a real plus for Gainesville.
“We are based in Gainesville, but we really are arts ambassadors for the city of Gainesville,” Tuttle said. “In fact, the City Commission named us arts ambassadors.”
Among Dance Alive’s achievements are its selection to the state of Florida Touring Roster for a record 40 consecutive years, as well as touring 17 other states, including 47 Florida counties, plus Costa Rica, Brazil, Russia, Bulgaria and Cuba.
DANB also collaborated with six Olympian/artists creating works performed at home and on tour, including command performances for HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco.
Locally, DANB has developed artistic collaborations with the University of Florida, Symphony Orchestra and UF Concert Choir, the Hippodrome Theatre, Cade Museum, Holy Trinity Church, Gainesville Civic Chorus, UF College of the Arts and numerous musicians, actors, poets, and visual artists.
And let’s not forget the children. Tuttle created “Lady Bug: Action Hero!”—a classic children’s ballet providing educational outreach for 15 years in over 25 schools throughout Florida and the Southeast.
There are probably few people in Gainesville who have not seen a DANB performance, be it classics such as “The Nutcracker” or “Swan Lake,” or more quintessential ballets like “Dracula” and “Horse of Another Color” presented in 2022. The 2023-2024 season is still unfolding.