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Ballerina project lifts spirits as Ellicott City rebuilds

Jess Nocera
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

One Ellicott City business owner is showcasing beauty amid the tragedy of May’s flood.

Donna Pidel, executive director of Ballet Conservatoire XIV, a ballet studio, was looking out onto Main Street one day at the devastation after the May 27 flood.

Pidel called one of her students, Brooke Sessler, and said “why don’t we go outside and take some pictures on the street,” of Sessler in a tutu, doing ballet poses.

“I wanted to show the juxtaposition of the beauty of art and how art is reflected in all areas of life and even in ugliness and tragedy, there is always something very beautiful that emerges,” Pidel said.

Pidel, of Clarksville, said the goal of the Ellicott City Ballerina Project is to “bring attention to the businesses coming back on Main Street.”

On May 27, Ellicott City’s historic district was pounded by rain for hours and flood waters filled some buildings with water, mud and more.

During the flood, the ballet studio did not have major damage.

“We are like a family here on Main Street,” Pidel said. “It’s very unusual little town full of strong spirited people.”

Pidel co-owns the studio with Hans Nelson, a Oella resident who first met Pidel after taking one of her ballet classes. Pidel began teaching ballet in London, and has worked in Belgium and in Baltimore before settling on Main Street.

Nelson said the project has lifted people’s spirits which “was something that was needed.”

“I love it,” Nelson said. “I appreciate Donna’s generosity in bringing more attention to the businesses.”

Using an iPhone X, Pidel has taken the pictures along Main Street, Old Columbia Pike, the Patapsco Female Institute and some in Baltimore County, where some roads and properties also sustained damages in the May flood. On Main Street, Pidel has taken pictures at Artists Gallery, The Forget-Me-Not Factory, Portalli’s, Ooh La Lal! and La Palapa.

“I get messages via Facebook asking ‘When are the ballerinas coming to our business?’” Pidel said.

One of the first pictures Pidel took was of Sessler, 18, with construction workers, who had been shoveling mud along Main Street all day. Pidel posed Sessler and the construction workers and posted the images on Facebook.

Pidel poses Sessler, takes a few snapshots and they are on their way.

Pidel decided on the dress color — white leotard, tutu and pointe shoes — to draw the attention away from them and have the focal point of the pictures be the business owners and the businesses buildings.

Sessler, of Futon, has been practicing ballet since she was 4 years old, always with Pidel. A recent graduate of St. Paul’s High School, Sessler is attending the Boston Conservatory this fall.

“I love seeing what the pictures have been able to do,” Sessler said. “Immediately we did see the reaction of a dance in white and what it can bring to this tragedy, it was a glimmer of hope on a really dark time.”

Another student of Pidel’s, Maggie Cusick, 12, of Catonsville, is also helping out.

“I live three miles from Ellicott City and I dance there and I do a home-school co-op at St. Paul’s Church,” said Maggie. “It’s been really fun and nice to meet all of the people.”

Pidel has received what she described as great feedback from business owners, community members as well as County Executive Allan Kittleman.

Kittleman said in a statement “many of us have been uplifted by the photos taken as part of the EC Ballerina Project,” in the weeks following the flood.

“Thank you for reminding us that even in the darkest of days we can find beauty, comfort and strength in the things that bind us together as a very special community.”

Over the next few months, Pidel said she will work with other business owners to create a calendar of the ballerina pictures for January 2019.

Sessler said that they are “just trying to put together something beautiful” with the calendar and hopefully it will help raise money. “It’s very spontaneous, I come in, put on a tutu and we go,” Sessler said.

The calendar will be revealed at a cocktail party where several of the photographs and the pointe shoes worn by Sessler will be auctioned. Proceeds will be donated to the Ellicott City Partnership, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the heritage and vitality of the city, according to the organization’s website.

Pidel said that the party will be for the business owners and community to come out and celebrate.

“Celebrate who we are as a community and how far we have come from digging through the muck to reopening businesses,” Pidel said. “I saw that the business owners enjoyed it [the project] so much … it has brought the community together.”

jnocera@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jessmnocera

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