In 1965, Patricia Schuster opened a small dance studio in Ridgefield with a big vision. A passionate advocate for ballet, Patricia wanted to bring New York City quality dance to the Ridgefield community. With this driving vision, over the next 34 years she established her school, formerly the Ridgefield Studio of Classical Ballet, as the leading dance school in the area.
In 1978, she formed the non-profit Ridgefield Civic Ballet as a way to expand her vision to give young dancers the opportunity to perform on the larger public stage alongside professionals, an experience she believed would inspire them to a higher appreciation for the full world of dance. Some of her students from the early days went on to become professionals themselves, most notably New York City Ballet Principal Dancer James Fayette. With the founding of the company she expanded her dream to include bringing a full-length production of The Nutcracker to Ridgefield.
Upon Patricia’s passing in 1999, her school was willed to The Ridgefield Playhouse for Movies and the Performing Arts in hopes that its legacy would continue. The Playhouse embraced the school as its dance school in residence and, recognizing that the school needed and deserved its own management structure, acted as a bridge to its new life as a non-profit with its own board and management.
With the blessing of The Playhouse, a group of five Ridgefield families who were committed to the future of the school joined together, donating funds and necessary resources to establish the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance, Inc. The Turner, Jelinek, Masters, Glendinning, and Jabara families had the vision and initiative to preserve the conservatory’s legacy and designated the school as a private, non-profit organization.
In January of 2002, the Board of Directors appointed James Robey, former dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, as Director and Melissa Gerth as Assistant Director. James and Melissa expanded the vision of Patricia Schuster to include the best New York City quality training in all dance forms in order to meet the versatility needed by the contemporary dance scene. James and Melissa established the Ridgefield Summer Dance Intensive to bring nationally and internationally recognized teachers into Ridgefield. They also established the Contemporary Dance Ensemble and the Junior Dance Ensembleto provide performance and learning opportunities for pre-professional jazz and modern dance students.
In December of 2002, the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance fulfilled its founder’s vision by presenting the first full-length production of The Nutcracker at the Ridgefield Playhouse. New York City ballerina and choreographer Stacey Mahan, Director of Outreach for American Ballet Theatre, was appointed Artistic Director of The Nutcracker and built the ballet into a popular Ridgefield holiday tradition over the next five years. In 2007, Anthony Jones, former member of Pacific Northwest Ballet Company in Seattle, WA, became Artistic Director for The Nutcracker.
In 2003, the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance received recognition from the United States as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. The non-profit tax-exempt status of the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance signifies the school’s singular commitment to excellence in dance education for the local community rather than being driven by commercial or profit motives.
In 2007, the Contemporary Dance Ensemble was one of sixteen professional/amateur dance companies chosen internationally to perform at the Harris Theater in Chicago at the Jazz Dance World Congress. Under the direction of James Robey and Melissa Gerth, the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance has grown to become a nationally recognized school of dance. In addition to the prestigious ballet program that has quadrupled in size since 2001, the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance now has an internationally recognized jazz dance program and the state of Connecticut’s leading modern dance program.
After a decade of successfully building the nationwide reputation of the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance, James Robey was offered a an Associate Professor position at Webster College in St Louis. He was recently appointed Chair of the department. James was instrumental in helping RCD find two co-directors—-Christina Paolucci and Terence Duncan who served for two years. In May of 2014 Amy Piantaggini, a senior faculty member, was appointed Artistic Director.