Island Tales
Ballet Star Calls Sanibel Home ©
- Libby Boren McMillan

Sanibel Island has attracted a star of the ballet world, and our island resident is bringing previously unfathomable opportunities to area dance enthusiasts with her school, Gulfshore Ballet.

The lovely Melinda Roy mesmerized audiences around the globe during her 18 years as a Principal Dancer with New York City Ballet. Roy is so modest about her astounding career, one would never imagine the heights of success she reached before retiring in 1996. "I am so fortunate;" she says, "fortunate to be there at that time, working with Jerome Robbins, (Director) George Balanchine, (Director) Peter Martins. It was a fabulous time to be in ballet in New York."

Now, it's a fabulous time to be "in ballet" in southwest Florida.

Until recently, there was no specifically classical ballet program in our area. The Optimists Club, at the urging of Sanibelian Jan Egeland, actually created one, giving underprivileged children scholarships to attend classes taught by Tomislav Vukovic, former Prinicipal with the Hamburg Ballet. "Tommy called and asked if I could come down and help him do some teaching," says Roy, "and I was really resisting. I said 'I don't want to teach'."

Roy was wooed until she relented. She packed her bags for a two-week stay with longtime friend Egeland. As Sanibel worked its charms, something wonderful happened. "My two weeks turned into five weeks," says Roy. "The Optimists flew me back and forth - they were terrific." Egeland, Vukovic, The Optimists, and perhaps destiny were suddenly working together to put southwest Florida on the map for ballet.

"I fell in love with the island, the kids, the teaching, all of it. It just really worked," beams Roy.

When the successful program ended in May, Roy and her partner were asked if they would consider creating their own school, with Optimists support. Luckily for us, they said yes, and Gulfshore Ballet was born in September 2000.

Today Gulfshore Ballet is thriving; dance students and enthusiasts of all ages are blessed with the types of amazing opportunities only a ballet star with stellar talent and star connections can bring. For example, New York City Ballet principal Jock Soto came to B.I.G. Arts to teach a master class. Dancers traveled from as far away as Sarasota for the opportunity to learn from a great; Roy and Soto added thrills with a performance after the class.

The not-for-profit Gulfshore Ballet is an incredible cultural bonus for southwest Florida. Roy and Vukovic, also a Sanibel resident, are really gratified with their work. "Ballet is the basis of all dance," says Roy. "If you have that, you can do anything. Kids learn the art of discipline through classical ballet." She adds, "Studies have shown that kids who take ballet tend to do better in school, and have higher concentration."

Egeland is now, according to Roy, "head administrator and angel," of this fabulous school, a not-for-profit educational institution, a la 501c3. Readers are encouraged to join The Friends of Gulfshore Ballet by mailing donations to Gulfshore Ballet, 2155 Andrea Lane C5-6, Ft. Myers FL 33912. For more information, call (239) 590-6191.

© Libby Boren McMillan - Legal Rights Apply
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