NY, LA, Russia and San Pedro, all great places for ballet.
Editor’s Note: For the past 17 years, San Pedro Ballet School has been training thousands of young dancers in ballet, jazz, tap, modern, and hip-hop. I have known one of its founders, Cindy Bradley, for a quarter-century, and the story of her studio and personal journey is truly inspiring.
OCS: Do you remember an aha! moment when you knew what you wanted to do with your life?
Cindy Bradley: My earliest memory of knowing exactly what I wanted to do was sitting in front of a television, I was probably 6 years old, the television was turned off and I saw my reflection in it. My mom had on the record King of the Road, and I just started singing it and looking at myself. I knew at that moment that I wanted to do something in show business. I didn’t know exactly what show business was, but my mom put me in baton twirling classes and that definitely was not it. Then she put me into a class at the Y or something like that where I was introduced to ballet. I’d liked it but the school wasn’t very good. Then she put me into another school but by the time I was nine the teacher said I needed to go to another school because they thought I had some talent that was beyond what they could help me develop. So I was then enrolled in Atlanta Ballet's school and that’s where I saw the real thing and I fell in love with it. I did that until I was seventeen when I got my first professional dance job. I was injured right away and by the time I was eighteen I had to quit.
That’s when I started a Punk Rock band called The Wigs. I always wanted to be involved with music. I loved David Bowie and Alice Cooper and the theatrical type of music artists I had seen. I saw it as a means of expression, with funky clothes and the like, but many people considered it dangerous and weird and the police always hassled us. I started teaching ballet right away to make money so I could continue to play in the band. The band moved to San Pedro because everyone in the band was working in the census bureau in Laguna Niguel. We wanted to play in L.A., so San Pedro was just sort of in between. I was teaching in Palos Verdes at a dance company I started there that still exists.
OCS: One of your students turned out to be your future husband.
Cindy Bradley: Yes. Patrick David Bradley. I met Patrick when he started taking ballet lessons from me, and we got together and decided we wanted to open a school. The school I started in Palo Verdes had 700 students by that time and eight of them (the best girls) wanted to come with us. We needed a place right away because we needed to prepare for The Nutcracker so we opened a place in San Pedro that we quickly outgrew. It was very expensive as well. We needed so much space so we shopped for a building and found our current location, a former Norwegian bakery. It turns out it was also the first supermarket here, probably in the 1920s. So we changed it into studios and just hoped people would travel the extra distance to us.
Patrick and I own and run the San Pedro Ballet School but we also have a non-profit youth, pre-professional company called the San Pedro City Ballet. Patrick does all the modern, original works and I do the more classical works. He directs the company with me and co-directs The Nutcracker. He danced in The Nutcracker for years. He works a lot with the company. I teach the younger kids, age 8 and up. In the studio we have students from age 2 and up. At the San Pedro Ballet School, we teach all styles of dance—contemporary, modern, tap, and jazz.
OCS: In the 17 years you’ve been in San Pedro, how many students do you think you’ve had?
Cindy Bradley: I’d say a couple thousand.
OCS: Of the students who have trained at the studio, can you share with us some of the standouts?
Cindy Bradley: Amazingly, through the years almost every San Pedro City Ballet company member has gone to college and graduated, some with advanced degrees. We have many students who have received scholarships to colleges. We’ve had a couple go professional in modern companies. One dancer, Misty Copeland, is in the American Ballet Theater company and was promoted to soloist. She was just featured on the cover of Dance Magazine and she’s been in a Blackberry commercial. She’s very well known in the dance world. Prince took an interest in her and put her in his video, and she does performances with him when she is on break from the company. She travels all over the world doing guest performances also while on break from the company.
OCS: Was she a beginner when she started?
Cindy Bradley: Yes. She was twelve, and I taught a free class at the Boys and Girls Club that she took. She wound up coming to our studio.
OCS: At one point, you wrote a musical.
Cindy Bradley: It was a dance musical called Shag With A Twist, in which I brought Shag’s artwork to life. (Shag is Josh Agle, a world renowned artist from Orange County). He designed all the sets, costumes, and props. He won an Ovation Award for his costume designs. The show opened at the Los Angeles Theater Center, ran for about 15 weeks, and went to Las Vegas for nine months. The music was written by my old guitar player from The Wigs, and I wrote the lyrics. I developed the concept and created the story. The sets are in storage as are the costumes, some of which we are getting ready for a fundraiser for the San Pedro City Ballet on May 14 in Palos Verdes. We are performing excerpts from Shag With A Twist and our musical performers are a group called The Martini Kings, who play lounge music. They’re hip, cool, sixties type. That’s the theme of the party.
OCS: You’ve accomplished a lot so far. What are your dreams from here on?
Cindy Bradley: I’d like Last Day Off (her son's band) to get a hit record, at least be off-Broadway with Shag With A Twist, and I would like to have San Pedro City Ballet live forever, even after I’m gone. I want it to be here for the community. I’d love for anyone who walks in to be able to take dance, regardless of their situation. That would be the ultimate for the school.
LINKS for more information about:
San Pedro Ballet Studio http://www.sanpedroballetschool.com/
San Pedro City Ballet http://www.sanpedrocityballet.org/new/index.html
Misty Copeland http://www.mistycopeland.com/home.html
lJosh Agle (Shag) http://www.shag.com/
Shag With A Twist Watch OCShowbiz for details.