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New San Luis Obispo youth ballet company aims for excellence

Megan Schellong/KCBX
Movement Arts Center dance students at a recent rehearsal.

There's a new youth ballet company in San Luis Obispo, striving to bring world-class instruction to young dancers and exceptional performances to Central Coast audiences. 

Maartje and Ryan Lawrence are co-owners of the Movement Arts Center, a dance studio home to 175 local students. The Lawrences opened their place just off of Higuera Street two years ago. Now the couple is planning to expand their operation and establish a youth ballet company called Movement Arts Collective.

“Youth Ballet, is really, we’re very excited about that because it’s something we’ve been wanting to do for quite a while. When we started our school, our goal was really to bring what we have learned and experienced back in Europe before we moved here 5 years ago,” Lawrence said. “I was born and raised there so, culture and art is part of our, you know it’s part of me, of our being. And we want to bring that to this community too. And we feel like San Luis Obispo is growing you know, the symphony and the theater are becoming more regionally minded so we feel like the dance needs to step up their game too and join that movement. SLO is a very special place and we feel like this is the perfect place for a company to begin.”

One of the collective’s goals for audience members is for them to walk away feeling more than just the aspects of live entertainment. For the Lawrences, dance is so much more.

“We want to bypass the entertainment part, of course it’s still entertaining. But we want people to experience something when they come see a show; it could be sadness, it could be extreme happiness, it could be confusion— different emotions than just ‘that was a fun show, I had a good time,’ and so that comes from good choreographers, so people who can make that kind of art,” Lawrence said.

For dancers, Lawrence says she hopes the collective will provide students with the proper footing to go directly into professional companies if they wish. That’s something Lawrence herself didn’t have as a teenager in the Netherlands. In order to pursue her dance dreams, she had to move by herself at 16 to Amsterdam.

“Because the school that was in our community wasn’t fulfilling what I needed to become a professional,” Lawrence said. “And that’s exactly the reason we are here in SLO, so kids can come here and not have to leave at age 16. They can train here until they are 18, 19, and if they want to go professional, they can.”

The Movement Arts Collective will strive to connect the San Luis Obispo community to the arts by showing people who haven’t been exposed to dance what it’s really about.

“So it becomes more about bringing art to San Luis and also about bringing art to people who have not been in touch with it yet: so, elderly people, people with Parkinson’s, children with disabilities, letting our dancers work with them and making it more of a community, so it really has 3 arms. We’re going to start by making our Youth Ballet and showing what we’re so excited about,” Lawrence said.

The Movement Arts Center studio currently has dancers from north and south San Luis Obispo County.

“We don’t only want to have those children be working with famous choreographers and putting pieces on stage, and sharing that with the audience," Lawrence said. "But we also want them to go through a personal journey by being there for their community. We also want them to be aware of the people who are not able to move like they are. They’re so lucky, they get to throw their legs up in the air without any problems. There’s people who are struggling everyday to just get out of a chair and for them to be aware of that and learn, we’re going to teach them how to work with people like that and make it a team effort so they both get moving."

Meg McCall is the chair of the Movement Arts Collective board of directors. She says the new non-profit collective will provide greater access to dance.

“But not everyone can afford to participate in an ongoing dance program,” McCall said. “And so they always knew they wanted to expand the performing arts into a non-profit arena. And one of the big ways they can do that is by creating the collective.”

The Youth Ballet is one arm of the collective. It’s where students 12 to 18 with a dance background can audition to perform in two main onstage performances each year, McCall says.

This year, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, an internationally renowned dancer, will choreograph one of the two performances for the Youth Ballet. McCall says that the Lawrences’ connections to renowned dancers around the world will add more credibility to the dance in San Luis Obispo.

“Generally speaking, when someone wants to see or expect a very high quality performance, they think I might have to go to San Francisco or Los Angeles, but what Maartje and Ryan Lawrence are doing through their connections and their history, are bringing very very experienced and sought-after performing artists to SLO,” McCall said.

The non-profit will also provide scholarships to dancers who might not otherwise be able to participate. Find out more at

Ochoa will be working with Movement Arts Collective dancers this coming weekend, culminating in a public showing on Sunday, Sept. 3 at 4:15 pm. The Movement Arts Center is at 2074 Parker Street.