Ann Derby - Owner and Director of Petaluma School of Ballet
Mrs. Derby began her training in Petaluma under Mary Paula, then director of Petaluma School of Ballet. She continued her studies at San Francisco Ballet, dancing with Marin Ballet, Rhebus Modern Dance Company and Sonoma County Ballet Company. She has two Bachelor of Arts Degrees from San Francisco State University in Dance and Technical Theater and has taught dance for many years in Sonoma County, purchasing Petaluma School of Ballet in 1982 and becoming director of North Coast Ballet California in 1985.
How old were you when you started dancing?
“10 with Mrs. Paula at Petaluma School of Ballet.”
Was ballet always what you wanted to do or did you try out other styles of dance before pursuing ballet?
“Ballet, always. I was probably 5 or 6 and I saw a ballerina on television and I told my mom and dad that’s what I was going to do. So we went to the library and got the Thalia Mara first books of ballet. I knew all the steps and everything. When I was in 4th or 5th grade I had a friend who was taking ballet so I gave her my allowance to teach me ballet *laughs* five cents a week! And so she taught me ballet and then we moved to Petaluma in June of 1959 and in January of 1960, a friend of mine was taking ballet with Mrs. Paula at Hermann Sons Hall and I went and watched and I was sitting on the edge of my seat and Mrs. Paula asked if I’d like to join the class and I said yes and I did. I never stopped.”
Who was your biggest dance influence when you were a student? How did that person help you to become the person you are today?
“Three people: my mom and dad who said if I wanted to do this then I’d have to find out a way to pay for it, but that they would support me in anything I wanted to do as much as they could; and Mrs. Paula, who really made me want to be the best dancer I could possibly be.”
Who is your biggest influence as a dance teacher and why?
“Harold Christensen from San Francisco Ballet and Marcia Dale Weary from Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, among others. His attention to detail, his demanding of perfection was so inspiring. His demeanor, that ballet was so exciting and so important really has stuck with me all these years. Marcia had such an incredible gift with children and I would love to emulate that. She trained such beautiful dancers.”
What is your favorite thing about teaching?
“My favorite thing about teaching is just being able to impact the dancers’ lives and help them find a passion through movement and that through dance I help them become productive young adults.”
What is the most challenging aspect of teaching?
“Technology. And in the changing world that as teachers we have to change somewhat with it, but [the] most challenging thing is the discipline and trying to instill discipline and yet maintain kindness.”
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice what would it be and why?
“Not to have such tunnel vision. To be a little bit broader: I would’ve brought in other forms of dance and that I had more background in other types of dance so that I could’ve been broader and so when I took over the studio I could’ve been more open rather than just ballet in the beginning because I think it just enhances ballet training.”
What is your favorite ballet?
“My very favorite ballet is Serenade by George Balanchine.”
What’s your favorite ballet in our repertoire?
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
What’s your favorite contemporary ballet we’ve ever done?
“Hmmm… that’s a tough one. A Quirk in the Line, maybe. One of my favorite ballets is Tarantella by Robbie Nichols.”
What are you most proud of?
What are you most proud of (as it relates to the studio)?
“Longevity. Sheer stubbornness. Picking myself by my bootstraps when the going got tough and figuring out how to make it work.”