Ellen Tharp - Achievement in the Arts 1998 COASHI

Ellen Tharp is famous on Staten Island as the founder and director of the Staten Island Ballet. This enthusiastic dreamer started the five year-old school and company from scratch, fueled by her ardent desire to see Staten Island become artistically independent of Manhattan. Her professional career is studded with accomplishments as a ballerina, theatrical performer and educator. After years of living and working in New York, she returned to Staten Island for more nature and civility. All too aware of the commuting time to New York, since as a young woman she trucked in daily for dance training, she began the Staten Island Ballet and school to reach youngsters here, who otherwise might miss out on an opportunity to be exposed to the dance.

 People thought she was crazy to try and start both the school and the company simultaneously, but Ellen felt it was imperative. "The children need to see professional dancers work to understand why they spend 40 minutes a day at the bar," she explains. "The performances of a professional company provide the inspiration to children to keep on working. 'I can do that too!", they say." The company of professional dancers from around the tri-state region have developed a core audience for their performances, and sell-out their yearly performances of "The Nutcracker." But the challenge still exists to draw larger audiences for newer, more artistically I expressive work, such as their upcoming performance on Mar 9 at the Center for the Arts at the College of Staten Island. There they will perform 2 world premiers and a Staten Island premier of artistically challenging and sophisticated dances, one of which is a tribute to Mother's Day. The professional company rehearses in Manhattan, but the school is located on Staten Island at the New Dorp Moravian Church

 Ellen feels it is vital to expose children to the beauty in this world, and in the 'World of ballet. That once aware of the art, many will choose to embrace it and share their love with others. So, to provide for children in financial need, last year the school gave out 80 scholarships worth $300 each. Though they have some private sponsors, the company absorb" most of the scholarships. The Staten Island Ballet also gives away free tickets throughout the season to seniors, poor and homeless families and community groups ,such as the Society for Children, Project Hospitality and nursing homes. Last season they distributed a total of 1,411 free tickets to 11 performances-quite a significant donation.

 The Staten Island Ballet also outreaches to the public schools, such as their Arts in Education program last year when they traveled to 15 schools and presented a 30 minute program of mixed dance styles followed by a question and answer period. Ellen herself also volunteered last year at the Petrides school where she had 135 children for a two hour period each week. At first hesitant and some even hostile, they were all eventually won over. "It was amazing to watch their interest grow and develop," Ellen explained. The program ended with a performance in which all the children participated.