After 27 years, Lynnwood ballet school closes

LYNNWOOD — All it would have taken was $1,300. For many of us, that amount wouldn’t even cover a mortgage payment.

But for Judith Ross, not having that $1,300 was enough for her to close up shop.

The recession has claimed another victim, this time Pacific Chamber Ballet, a nonprofit dance school Ross has run for the past 27 years in Lynnwood.

In September, Ross realized she did not have enough students to cover the cost of running her dance business. She had 20 students enrolled. She needed another 20.

So for a community institution with a reputation for success, closing the doors was something Ross would never have imagined.

“I thought they’d have to cart me out of the studio on a stretcher some day,” Ross said last week.

And for the parents whose children have grown up learning with Ross, it’s a heartbreaker.

“Judy offers a Pacific Northwest Ballet education at a less expensive cost and it’s local and she really cares about her students,” said Michelle Walters of Brier, whose daughter, Rhea, has taken classes with Ross for eight years. “It’s a huge loss to the community.”

Ross said starting out a new season even $200 or $300 short would have been manageable, something a fundraiser or two could fix. But starting $1,300 short was the death knell.

Last year, Ross’s enrollment dropped to 35 students. This summer, she began to worry about enrollment when her phone wasn’t ringing.

“We are down at 20 students and that doesn’t pay the bills,” Ross said.

On top of that drop in students, Ross said her rent has increased consistently every year, except for this year.

Still, at $1,665 for 1,200 square feet, Ross said the rent is “what is eating us up.”

“The rent is my biggest problem,” Ross said.

With escalating rent costs and a declining student base, Ross still managed to stay in the ballet business all these years. Making sacrifices helped, such as not paying herself a salary for 10 years.

Ross said she and her husband, Richard, have lived off his income as an electrical contractor.

“I do this because it’s my passion,” Ross said. “He loves what I do and he’s told me, ‘We don’t need you to make money, as long as it pays its own bills.’ ”

Ross said her husband wept when she told him she’d have to close Pacific Chamber.

He wasn’t the only one.

Ross was going to close the studio this past Saturday, but parents and students pleaded for more time.

“When you see the kids crying and begging you to stay open, what could I do?” she said.

Denise Opper’s daughter, Abby, has been studying with Ross since she was 6½. Opper studied with Ross when she was 12.

Opper excelled under Ross, and became good enough to take summer courses at Pacific Northwest Ballet’s school. Abbey, 10, is about to follow in those footsteps.

When Denise Opper learned that Ross was going to have to close, Abby said she didn’t want to go anywhere else. Ross told mother and daughter that Abby was ready for the PNB.

Abby auditioned and was accepted into the school, a testament to Ross’s skill as a ballet teacher, Denise Opper said.

“She would challenge Abby and encourage her to reach a little more,” Opper said. “Judith just wants to keep inspiring students to be dancers.”

The loss of Pacific Chamber to the community will be felt in small, poignant ripples.

School assemblies across several counties won’t be the same because Ross and her students won’t be performing there. Venues such as the Seattle Center will have to find other ballerinas. And there may be one or two fewer students going on to the Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet or The KIROV Ballet School, now that Ross won’t be there to guide them.

Ross said she’s giving her landlord notice Oct. 1. After that begins the process of selling the bars, the mirrors and other Pacific Chamber Ballet equipment. Ross said it will take her some time to digest all that’s happened before determining her next move.

Ross recognized that, as sad as closing her studio is, stories like hers remind people that the arts can truly suffer in tough times.

“So you know I really didn’t think I’d be retiring this early,” said Ross, 65. “Oh, well. This is what I have to accept but it’s been hard letting go.”

About Pacific Chamber Ballet

Pacific Chamber Ballet began in 1983. It is located at 6925 216th St., Suite F, Lynnwood. Judith Ross is the artistic director. The number is 425-778-1600.

Theresa Goffredo: 425-339-3424; goffredo@heraldnet.com.

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