City Cast

The History Behind The Houston Ballet

Brooke Lewis
Posted on August 8
A Houston ballet performance.

Houston Ballet has been a staple in Houston for decades. (Houston Ballet/Facebook)

Houston Ballet is the fifth largest dance company in the country, employing over 50 dancers and boasting a multi-million dollar budget. However, before it became one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the country, it started with twelve student dancers practicing in a small renovated garage. Let’s learn more!

The Humble Beginnings

An interest in bringing a ballet company to Houston began when Tatiana Semenova, a professional international dancer, brought the American Youth Ballet to perform at San Jacinto High School in 1955. Natasha Rawson, president of Houston Allied Arts Association, gathered support to sponsor Semenova in Houston. Shortly after, the Foundation for Ballet was established in July 1955. After months of practice in a renovated garage on Lovett Boulevard, Semenova held her first dance recital for her students, Esquisse de Ballet. As the years progressed, the students were able to perform in several Houston Grand Opera productions. Semenova also debuted her first big production, Enigma, at the Music Hall, now known as the Hobby Center.

The Company Grows

In the 1960s, Nina Popova, who hailed from New York’s High School for the Arts, took over leadership of the foundation. She broadened the reach of the ballet, holding auditions for dancers in New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas. They toured across 20 different communities in Texas. Expenses for the ballet company ballooned. In 1970, the ballet needed to raise $62,000 or it would shut down. The funds came in and the ballet company continued to grow. The number of dancers at the company increased and they were able to practice in a much larger studio space totaling 17,500 square feet. The ballet company’s reputation grew even more in the 1980s and 1990s, as the company toured across the country and abroad to Europe. The Wortham Center also opened, providing a dedicated space for ballet performers.

The Present Day

For its upcoming season, the ballet company will perform six world premieres, including three Houston Ballet premieres. Next month, the new season kicks off with “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” and “Tutu.” The new season will also celebrate Stanton Welch, who has served as the artistic director for 20 years.

Have you been to a Houston Ballet performance recently? What’s one of your favorite memories at the ballet? Email me.

Hey Houston

Want to know what's happening in Houston? Sign up for our free newsletter, Hey Houston. Packed with local news, curated event recs, local life hacks, and more, it's your daily toolkit for getting the most out of the city you love.

Houston History

See All

The latest in Houston