The Florida Ballet at Jacksonville, Inc. (d/b/a The Florida Ballet) was founded in 1978 by Laurie Picinich-Byrd and Michael F. Byrd. Michael, born and raised in Jacksonville, completed his education at the University of Florida before going to New York City to pursue a professional career in dance. Laurie had been trained in New York and London, England and was working as a choreographer, teacher and dancer. They met while working at the Metropolitan Opera House. Both had a passion for the arts and a desire to bring dance to a community to enhance the quality of life. Michael wanted to give back to his home city and so The Florida Ballet at Jacksonville was born.
The Florida Ballet debuted at the old Civic Auditorium Little Theatre in March of 1979. In addition to the theater performances, the company dancers also presented educational programming throughout the schools of Jacksonville. The educational programming was such a success and priority to the Byrd’s mission, that they applied and were awarded the organization’s first federal grant which allowed the dancers of The Florida Ballet to present outreach programs within 125 schools in the Jacksonville community.
In 1981, several of the city’s dedicated dance students were requesting training from Mr. and Mrs. Byrd. The Byrds were well aware of the intense training needed to pursue a professional career and the need of such a program within Jacksonville. With this in mind, they formed The Florida Ballet Training Center.
The company dancers and newly formed Training Center were given rehearsal space in the old Ivey’s building (now JEA building) in downtown Jacksonville and then at the First Presbyterian Church on Monroe street. As the company grew, so did the need for a real home. The Clarkson Company assisted the company in acquiring a historic building on Forsyth Street, directly across from the Florida Theatre. From 1983 to 1989 The Florida Ballet toured throughout the southeast presenting professional quality dance performances. For three years, The Florida Ballet was the highest funded dance company by the State of Florida through the Department of State’s grants.
As the national economy began to take a downward trend – so did the funding for The Florida Ballet. With the support of a dedicated Board of Directors, Laurie and Michael reluctantly cut staff, dancers and programming to a minimum. Although activities were curtailed, theater performances, educational programs and training center classes were continued every year with increased enrollment each and every year.
With the focus of training professional dancers, The Florida Ballet moved to its current home located at 300 East State Street in 2004. In the summer of 2007, The Florida Ballet was awarded a grant from the Weaver Family Foundation for the purpose of meeting urgent financial needs. Part of this grant was directed toward scholarships in the professional training program for talented students with financial need and part was directed toward strengthening the administrative support staff so as to create a strong future for The Florida Ballet.
In the fall of 2011, The Florida Ballet launched the Conservatory Program providing a full time, pre-professional program designed to prepare 11-18-year-old students for a performing career in professional ballet. Conservatory graduates have had success in the pursuit of a career in professional dance. Alumni are working with Pittsburgh Ballet, Texas Ballet Theatre, Orlando Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet. Many of our alumni have received partial and full scholarships at universities to major in dance and have attended University of Utah, Jacksonville University, Pointe Park College, University of Florida, and Florida State.
Over its 39-year history, The Florida Ballet has grown into one of the most respected classical ballet training facilities in Northeast Florida. Staff members include Artistic Director, Administrative Director, Principal Teacher, Conservatory/Student Services Coordinator and part-time professional teachers with over 25 years’ experience in dance education. Many of the faculty are also certified in ABT® curriculum. The Florida Ballet is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors made up of business and civic leaders from across the northeast Florida area and is IRS registered 501(c)(3) organization incorporated in the state of Florida.
Laurie Picinich-Byrd (1947-2014)