Our Story

Our Story


Western Arkansas Ballet was founded July 23, 1979, as the Fort Smith Civic Ballet and reorganized in August 1985 under the present logo and code of ethics.  Western Arkansas Ballet has an Executive Artistic Director, Associate Artistic Director, Ballet Mistress and Costume Mistress, Dance Instructor, Administrator, and Administrative Assistant.  Western Arkansas Ballet is governed by a Board of Directors from the Fort Smith community with input from our National Artistic Advisory Board and our Community Advisory Board.

For the past thirty-five years, the Board of Directors has introduced and implemented outreach and educational programs to fulfill the mission of Western Arkansas Ballet. The Board of Directors is proud of the unique characteristics of Western Arkansas Ballet:  it is the only dance organization in the area with membership in Regional Dance America/Southwest, an Association of Regional Ballet Companies; the only dance organization in the area to receive annual support from the Arkansas Arts Council; and the only nonprofit dance school and company in the area.  The mission of Western Arkansas Ballet is to create a community dedicated to the Fine Arts through quality dance education, training, and performance.

Focus on Quality Dance Education

WAB’s Executive Artistic Director, Melissa Schoenfeld, holds Master’s and Bachelor’s Degrees in Fine Arts from the University of Oklahoma. As a part of its mission to bring quality dance education to the community, Western Arkansas Ballet has developed and implemented many community outreach programs.  In addition to teaching classes for The Academy of Western Arkansas Ballet during the school year, our instructors teach classes for the Fort Smith Girls, Inc. Summer Program. Western Arkansas Ballet absorbs the total cost of providing these lessons as a part of its vision and commitment to community outreach. Our instructors also represent Western Arkansas Ballet as auxiliary instructors at Alma High School and the Fort Smith Montessori School.

In June 2020, Western Arkansas Ballet offered the 29th annual Lorraine Cranford Summer Dance Workshop.  Named after the founder of Ballet Arkansas, this week-long workshop features a staff of various professional instructors from across the nation with teaching support from Arkansas.  The week concludes with a demonstration performance by the workshop dancers.  The 30th Annual Summer Dance workshop will be held in June 2021.

Focus on Quality Dance Training

The Academy of Western Arkansas Ballet, a nonprofit organization, offers classes for company and non-company members in ballet, pointe, tap, jazz, modern, hip-hop, Progressing Ballet Technique, Adult Ballet, and Creative Movement at the Western Arkansas Ballet studios in Fort Smith.

The Nancy Wood Scholarship Fund was established in 1993 to provide funds to young people who had the desire to pursue the art of dance but not the financial means to do so.  The scholarship was named in honor of the founder of Western Arkansas Ballet, Nancy Wood.  The Ray Moore Scholarship Fund was established in the spring of 2005 by the children of Ray Moore.  At his request, the fund was established to help children ages 4 to 9 to be able to participate in dance training that might not otherwise be able to participate because of financial difficulties.  Monies from these funds pay for dance tuition, shoes, workshops, and camps.  The Amanda Dooly Scholarship Fund was established in 2012 by the family of Amanda Dooly, a former Western Arkansas Ballet company member, to encourage any dancer interested in exploring the art of choreography.  The Rachel Campbell Smith Scholarship Fund was established in memory of Rachel Campbell Smith in 2012 by her family in order to support and encourage a young person in the dance arts.  Young people across the state have received scholarships from these programs, but the majority of the recipients are students at the Academy of Western Arkansas Ballet.

The 2020-2021 Western Arkansas Ballet Company is comprised of 21 members under contract for all productions with members selected from an annual open audition. Company members take class and rehearse at the Western Arkansas Ballet studios.

The Western Arkansas Ballet Company realized a long time-dream in 1995 by being accepted into Regional Dance America/Southwest, an Association of Regional Ballet Companies.  Western Arkansas Ballet is the only dance school and company in the area with RDA membership.  As a result of this membership, the company members have an opportunity to attend RDA Spring Festival and take classes from renowned faculty from across the United States.  WAB’s company is adjudicated annually.  The process is extremely demanding and difficult and only the best companies in the region are asked into membership.  In April 1999 at the RDA/SW festival in San Antonio, Western Arkansas Ballet auditioned and became a performing company member.  In April 2008 Western Arkansas Ballet was honored to receive the STREAM AWARD from RDA/SW.  This award is presented to one company each year that exemplifies outstanding artistic excellence and growth as well as service above and beyond to the region.  In April 2013, Western Arkansas Ballet hosted the Regional Dance America/Southwest Festival here in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Focus on Performance

Our Spring Ballet is an opportunity to present the community with a new full-length ballet such as The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, The Sleeping Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, Giselle, Snow White, or Cinderella. . This year Western Arkansas Ballet will present the storybook ballet, Alice in Wonderland, on March 5 and 6, 2021, at the ArcBest Corporation Performing Arts Center. Each May, the Academy of Western Arkansas Ballet presents its annual Spring Dance Concert which provides a “window view” of the discipline of dance to the Fort Smith Community.

The Nutcracker is in its thirty-fifth year of production by Western Arkansas Ballet. Not only does the performance give Western Arkansas Ballet an opportunity to showcase local dance talents, but it also allows Western Arkansas Ballet to present performing professional dancers to the Fort Smith community.  As part of the goal for community outreach, we normally present an abbreviated program to area elementary schools in Fort Smith, host a “Meet the Artists” event after each performance, and offer reduced-rate tickets for nonprofit children and youth groups. Unfortunately, due to COVID19, we are unable to offer our outreach programs in 2020.

Support for Western Arkansas Ballet is provided, in part, by the Arkansas Arts Council, an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, and the National Endowment for the Arts.