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Russells nurture the arts

August 14, 2006

SHARPSBURG - He has the vision and a knack for transforming common buildings like warehouses and restaurants into dance studios. She has the gift of a ballerina, as well as the gift for discovering others' talents and enabling them to blossom into prima ballerinas.

Ray and Carolou Russell of Sharpsburg have a long history of supporting and nurturing the arts, specifically ballet, in the Tri-State area as the founders of the Hagerstown Ballet and West Virginia Youth Ballet for the past 25 years.

"I've always been an admirer of the arts and a great lover of ballet," said Ray Russell. "She's the gifted and talented one, and I knew it from the first moment I saw her dance."

Recognizing the need for the arts in Southern Washington County, Ray Russell took advantage of the opportunity in Sharpsburg and purchased the then-New Central Restaurant at an auction in 2000. After a year of remodeling, the Antietam Ballet Theatre was opened, and serves both as a dance studio, as well as a theater stage for their productions.

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"Ballet does more for youth, both mentally and physically, than any other activity," Ray Russell said.

Carolou Russell, who performed with the Philadelphia Ballet Company from age 16 to 20, is an experienced dancer, teacher and choreographer. Many of her students, male and female, advance to national and international ballet companies enjoying professional dancing careers, including The New York City Ballet, The Pennsylvania Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

The Russells' trademark production has been the "Nutcracker," performed for the past 20 years during the holiday season. The performances have been presented at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater, The Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown and the Apollo Civic Theatre in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Recently, Antietam Ballet presented a production of "Fiddler on the Roof," featuring live music and professional dancers, along with their own dancers.

The classic ballet "Coppelia," Antietam Ballet's spring recital presentation, was extended due to popular request.

The Antietam Ballet Theatre is at 104 S. Mechanic St. in Sharpsburg.

For class information or registration, call 301-582-2222.

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