Audrey Share, an Associate of the Royal Academy of Dance, London, immigrated to
the U.S to open the very first Royal Academy ballet school in Southern
California. The Royal Academy of Dance is England's premiere ballet organization
sanctioned by the Queen and associated with the Royal Ballet (left: RAD emblem).
For a quarter
of a century, the Audrey Share School of Dance inhabited an old
open-front grocery store on Wardlow Road in Long Beach, California. It was one of the few buildings to
survive the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, and the school served as a training ground for such notables as Yoko Ichino
(American Ballet Theatre and National Ballet of Canada), Bobby Burgess (Mickey Mouse Club and the Lawrence Welk Show,
photo right), and a large segment of the Long Beach community.
In 1962, a
few miles north in Monterey Park, another Royal Academy school was
getting started under the direction of Yvonne Cusack. Her piano
accompanist was Gerie Wilcox
(photo left). Gerie had
a son, David, who at the age of 11 began taking ballet classes with Miss Cusack.
After a year he began performing with Cusack's school as well as with the
Share School in Long Beach. (Then, as now, boys were in short supply.)
association between two Southern California Royal Academy schools in the 1960's
led to the eventual collaboration between David Wilcox, his first wife Linda Gonzales, and
a pair of ballet lovers by the name Art and Lynn Chenen. They took over the Audrey Share school in
January of 1981 and renamed it Ballet Arts Center of Southern California.
Gonzales had just returned to the U.S. after a seven year professional career in
Germany and had started a small ballet school in Inglewood. When Audrey
Share learned of their return, she offered to hand over her
school to them but they declined, preferring instead to
continue with their own fledgling school. Miss Share, however, pursued them relentlessly for
the following two years.
after a ballet class with Wilcox, one of the students overheard him speaking about
an offer to take over a large school in Long Beach. The student went home and told her
husband about the conversation. Art Chenen was an attorney and his wife Lynn had just
finished teaching elementary school. They had recently fallen in love with
classical ballet during a trip to Italy, hence Lynn's attendance in Wilcox's
class. They were very interested in the possibility of partnering with the
(photo right) agreed to finance the new venture by purchasing the building for the
partnership and by lending financial support until the school was able to
sustain itself solely on classical ballet instruction, a lofty goal. Lynn
took the job of administrator while David and Linda did all of the teaching.
The first year was witness to substantial growth
and activity. The studios were renovated top to bottom and the first
annual performance was held at Lakewood High School. One year
later David and Art founded the Long Beach Ballet, which became Southern
California's largest-ever professional ballet company for fifteen years.
Ballet Arts Center of Southern California was granted non-profit status by the
government and was renamed Long Beach Ballet Arts Center. It had grown to over
students and had the distinct advantage of sharing its studios with professional dancers
and guest artists from around
the world, as can be seen on the walls of the hallway.
professional company changed it's name to Los Angeles Classical Ballet in 1991
in an effort to procure a broader base of support and by 1994 annual ticket
sales topped 50,000. In 1995 Wilcox received a proclamation from
the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor Richard Riordan for his important work
in the field of ballet.
In 1996 the
advanced level students were formed into a pre-professional "regional"
performing company--Long Beach Ballet Theatre (LBBT)-- under the guidance of
Lisa-Marie Goodwin and Shani Englert.
In 1997 and
1998 Wilcox toured Taiwan and China with the professional company
and students from the school, establishing his strong relationship with the Asian
LBBT was accepted as a member of Regional Dance America, a national organization
of regional ballet companies. That same year the school officially took
over the production of Wilcox's "Nutcracker" when the professional company
From 1999 the school continued to grow
its student base and to expand its programs, including an annual
summer intensive that now includes a 50-member 3-week China tour.
Today, the school continues
its tradition of outstanding achievement in ballet technique.
Over the past 28 years, students have successfully competed in international ballet competitions,
received scholarships to schools throughout the U.S. and joined major companies.