Barre Belle – It’s More Than Ballet

Mar 14, 2024 | by Cierra Ivey

Noel Pipkin is no stranger to dance. She received training at various studios in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia and has been a member of multiple ballet companies. Pipkin has performed in numerous notable shows, such as Coppelia, The Nutcracker, and Giselle. When Pipkin moved to Charlotte, she volunteered to work with children in underserved communities through her church. She found that one of the main concerns was transportation to and from activities. As a solution, Pipkin founded her own nonprofit - Barre Belles.

Barre Belle is a portable dance studio that introduces ballet fundamentals to elementary students. The nonprofit is designed to expose and provide access to the art of dance through local community centers and schools, like The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs. Classes are geared toward students with little to no dance training.

“I wanted to offer an experience for students that didn’t have the opportunity,” says Pipkin. “Whether that was an exposure thing, they didn’t know about it, they didn’t know they could do it, or they had financial burdens.”

Pipkin understands that not everyone can afford dance lessons. Even her family couldn’t afford all her classes.

“Growing up, I was on scholarship for my dance classes. So sometimes I would have to teach a class to get some of my classes paid for, or I would clean the studio to get a discount on classes because I was encouraged to take so many.” She talked about the fact that she was often the only Black girl in her classes, which is why representation is an important part of her nonprofit's foundation.

Pipkin and her dance instructors teach at several local Clubs: Belmont Avenue, Oak Forest, Tryon Hills, and Sedgefield.

“We love coming to the Boys & Girls Club. Every time I go, I see the same kids year after year. I recognize them, and they get excited,” she says. Club members get more than a dance lesson every week; they learn about self-esteem and self-awareness. From putting on leotards and tights to learning new dance moves, children are anxious about embracing the ballet experience.

“You see kids at the beginning of class, and they’re nervous. Towards the end of the semester, they want to show their friends and family what they learned,” says Pipkin.

To help retain those lessons, Pipkin’s team introduced journaling to the children. After every class, Club members would take the time to write what they learned and how they felt. Club members also have a chance to watch their instructors perform in a professional ballet using the same moves and techniques they learned at the Club. “It’s a way to help them connect with what they learned,” says Pipkin.

Barre Belle served 145 students last year, with nearly 90% of them identifying as Black. But it isn’t an all-girl ensemble. Pipkin has boys in her class, too, but she uses a different strategy to get them engaged.

“We try to do an intro saying ballet is not just for the performing arts but can relate to sports. So, I ask the boys, where do you think ballet benefits in sports? And then, I explain that ballet helps with agility, speed, and balance,” she says. “I also show them videos of me dancing with a male partner and explain that for my partner to lift me in the air, they must be strong, work out, and practice.” Pipkin also has a male intern who helps during class. She says he’s an excellent example of being confident and creating a safe space for male students skeptical of trying ballet.

Barre Belle has grown significantly, and the nonprofit plans to expand further. “In the next five years, it would be really cool to have a brick-and-mortar and a traveling studio with a trailer where kids can come on and do classes,” says Pipkin. The organization is also looking to expand its board, add more volunteers, and hire college interns with a passion for dance. Those who are interested can email [email protected] for more information. The organization also takes monetary donations to sponsor student leotards, tights, ballet slippers, and field trips to professional performances. All donations go through their website,

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