Phyllis Papa: Dancer to Director

Phyllis Papa

As an 11-year-old ballet dancer, Phyllis Papa dreamed of heading her own ballet company. Presently artistic director of the Atlantic City Ballet, the Princeton native’s founding of the local company 34 years ago had an innocuous beginning.

“Resorts was just getting established down here and Lillian Norton (wife of Resorts executive Steven) took one of my classes. She asked if I would be interested in coming here to start a ballet company. She did some research and got $150,000 from CRDA to get us started.”

That classroom encounter and subsequent funding were en pointe, but building the company was not without obstacles.

“We’ve had our ups and owns. We rehearsed at the All Wars Memorial Building, ACCC, and then Stockton. We didn’t have a permanent home so we ended up doing a lot of touring. We’ve only been at Boardwalk Hall for three years.

Rehearsal and office space at Boardwalk Hall and performance space at Caesar’s provide stability, but educating the public is ongoing.

“In the city people don’t really know ballet; they weren’t raised with it. Our biggest obstacle was getting people to know who we are and what we are.”

Though local recognition might be a work in progress, the company resonates cachet among dancers.

“I get dancers from Asia, Europe, South America, and all over the United States. All my dancers from other countries are top notch. They can get a visa only because they are the top in their field.”

But Phyllis’ vision for the company extends beyond just dance.

“I want to build the audience and bring art here, because where there’s art, there’s regrowth.”

The attainment of Phyllis Papa’s childhood dream just might be the adagio for ballet and the city.

-John “Yonk” Rosnick

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