By Kim Hasty
Michelle Courie appreciates the air of authenticity that surrounds the Charlotte Blume School of Dance, located, since 1964, in a decades old, two-story building in Haymount. “It’s the kind of studio I expect you would find if you were walking along the streets of New York,” said Courie, whose 9-year-old daughter Mary Elizabeth achieved the milestone this year of performing “en pointe.” These days, the vintage feeling at the studio mixes with the bustling comings and goings of baby mice, flowers, snowflakes, harlequin dolls, the Sugar Plum Fairy, Clara, Drosselmeyer and a host of other characters preparing for the 52nd annual production of the North Carolina State Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.” Public performances are scheduled for Dec. 11 and 12 at 3 p.m. at the Crown Theatre. Even better, with the help of grants and contributions from parents, the tradition continues for every Cumberland County fourth grader to have the opportunity to see the classic production Dec. 3, 6 and 10.
It’s a tradition of excellence and philanthropy that Dina Lewis has carried on since the death of the studio’s matriarch, Charlotte Blume, in 2016. Lewis first became involved with the studio some 20 years ago as a member of the board of directors. That was long before her daughter Ella, a 20-year-old N.C. State sophomore, would gain the coveted role of the sparkling Sugar Plum Fairy and younger daughter Sophia, 15, would step into one of the pristine tutus of the Snow Queens.
The daughter of Greek immigrants, Lewis was a high school softball player who grew up performing traditional Greek dances at Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church. But ballet? She said she didn’t know an arabesque from a grand jete.
That was then. Over the years, she has assimilated Blume’s precision, expertise and attention to detail. As well as her ability to inspire excellence.
“If you were around Charlotte enough, you could pick up ballet,” she said. “I promised her I wouldn’t change anything. I would keep everything exactly the way it is: Traditional.” “Once you saw what she could do for a child, you understood,” she said. “If a child said, “I can’t,” she said, “We don’t use that word here.’” Keeping with Blume’s standards, Lewis said she never turns away an aspiring student who is willing to put in the work.
“She was the most giving person I’ve ever met, and as far as posting our prices, we’ll never do it,” Lewis said. “I think giving back comes back to you. And it makes coming to work fun.”
Fun, yes, but also an enormous amount of work and organization, including keeping up with all those colorful and expensive costumes throughout the year. The result promises to be a spectacular display of talent and retelling of the beloved story of young Clara, the Christmas Eve gift of the nutcracker she is given and the elaborate dream she has upon falling asleep.
And the production ensures that the legacy and firm standards of Charlotte Blume live on. “It’s all about carrying on what she wanted to see on that stage,” Lewis said.