Zoura O’Neill - Co-Artistic Director
Ms. Zoura began her training at Petaluma School of Ballet under the direction of Mary Paula, and also also danced with Redwood Empire Ballet and Marin Ballet, where she performed in The Nutcracker and as well as in many spring shows. She trained with Anita Kane and at San Francisco Ballet with Harold Christensen, one of the original founders, where she was offered two full summer scholarships in 1978 and 1979 and was also invited to train year-round. She earned her associate’s degree from SRJC and her Bachelor of Arts from Sonoma State University, and has been on Staff at Petaluma School of Ballet since 1985. O’Neill was one of the original dancers of Petaluma City Ballet (now North Coast Ballet California) and now the Co-Artistic Director of NCBC.
What is your earliest memory of dance?
“I remember peeking through the door and watching my older sister take ballet--she’s the reason why I started dancing really. She was dancing with Mrs. Paula at Petaluma School of Ballet at the McNear building and I would stand in the doorway and watch her dance. Mrs. Paula would call me a light switch because I would take class for a while and then I’d stop and I’d try piano and then something else so she asked, ‘When are you going to stick with ballet with me?’”
What was the first ballet you ever saw?
“La fille mal gardée was the first ballet I saw with Mrs. Paula. She took me to the ballet and I was probably 12 years old and she said to me, “Someday I’m going to see you up on that stage at the Opera House’.”
Why did you choose ballet over other styles of dance?
“I started with ballet and then I tried different things: I tried piano and musical theatre, and then I went to a studio that had other dance forms, so while I was there I learned acrobatics, tap, jazz and then ballet. When I got to an age to where I was going to get my toe shoes, I was taken to Petaluma School of Ballet for the classical ballet training that I needed to get my pointe shoes.”
Who did you look up to as a young dancer and why?
“We had master classes with Harold Christensen [at San Francisco Ballet] and it was always my favorite class every week. He was a challenging teacher, very strict, but he pushed us to a new level.”
What is the biggest challenge you face as a ballet teacher and what is the most rewarding thing?
“Especially with teaching younger children, to use a lot of visual imagery, because just to say to them, ‘Tendu means to stretch’, I have to come up with funny and new ways for them to visualize it before they can feel it in their body which is very challenging. The most rewarding thing is seeing a dancer really accomplish something, maybe get their pointe shoes or get their double pirouette, and seeing them go through all of the hard work and then finally reaching their dance goals.”
What is the most valuable thing ballet has taught you and how do you share that with your students?
“I think the most valuable thing is learning to be confident and not too hard on yourself which is very hard as a dancer. To always be confident and persevere, because you’re always going to have days where your pirouettes don't work or your petit allegro isn’t strong enough so to keep pushing through.”
What is your favorite thing you’ve ever choreographed?
“Andante Affettuoso. I was so drawn to New Age Composer, Brian Crains music. This beautiful yet haunting Cello and Piano duet helped me to tell a story of loss and grief. The second movement, Butterfly Waltz, is so uplifting and one of my favorite pieces of music. In this final part of my ballet the dancers expressed how coming together as a group to mourn for an individual helped in the process of letting go and finding peace and light through such a difficult time.”
What is your favorite ballet to perform?
“The Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker with San Francisco Ballet.”
What are you most proud of?
“My children. I’ve seen them go through some very difficult times, throughout their teenage years, and seeing them as confident, really beautiful people who are caring and helpful and want to reach out to the community makes me really proud.”
If you could share one piece of advice with your younger self during a challenging time what would it be?
“To try to look farther down the road than in this very moment.”
What are the words you live by?
“I think the joke around here is that I, as a teacher, say to, “Make good choices” but on the other side of that it’s to always be true to yourself and listen to your heart as a dancer or as a person and let it guide you.”