Virginia Stapleton leaps out of Artistic Director position at Stapleton Ballet


Elliot Smith

Ms. Stapleton demonstrates a tendu to her Monday ballet class.

In Nov. 2021, Virginia Stapleton announced that she would be stepping down as the Artistic Director of Stapleton School of the Performing Arts. Stapleton founded the school in 1988 and has been the Artistic Director ever since.

Stapleton decided to start her school with the intention to teach dance in an inclusive environment, a philosophy she has continued to this day.

“I want people to fuel our world, and there is nothing like art to do that, you’re collaborating all the time, sharing, and respecting each other,” Stapleton said. 

Stapleton started her career as a dance instructor at the San Anselmo Recreation Center. A friend had recommended her to teach because she knew Stapleton was a dancer who was great with children. 

“I started at San Anselmo Recreation because they had known that I had danced professionally and they needed a summer school teacher and a friend of mine recommended me…. With twenty students, and then forty and it kept doubling each year until I had 350 students, which is when I left the Rec Center,” Stapleton said. 

Despite Stapleton’s initial successes and a rise in student sign-ups, she felt that she wasn’t living up to the standard of her professional ballerina colleagues, who were still dancing in companies such as the New York City Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet.

“[Before] I just wanted to be a dilettante (someone with an amateur interest in the arts) and just teach the advanced students. But you know I finally embraced [my success] when I had 300 students…I just had this standard of the professional ballerinas that I had danced with… Even though I wasn’t doing it the way these big friends were, I was still incredibly successful,” Stapleton said.

Stapleton’s inclusive teachings have had a large impact on all of her students. One member, AWHS senior Mia Slippy, has danced at Stapleton for 14 years and feels that ballet has had an enormous impact on her life. 

“[Ballet] is probably the biggest thing in my life. It has shaped my whole personality and the way that I work just because it’s such a big dedication and driven thing,” Mia said. 

Another member of Stapleton’s company, AWHS sophomore Madeline Alsterlind, is very disappointed to see Stapleton’s exit.

 “When [Virgina Stapleton] leaves it’s going to be very different. She just has been here for so long and that’s all I have ever known,” Madeline said. 

As Stapleton steps down from the Artistic Director position, she describes this transition as “bittersweet.” Stapleton says that she is excited to begin the retirement stage of her life, but will still be present as a Board Member at Stapleton to preserve the inclusivity aspect of the studio.

“I am officially retiring, you know [Stapleton] has my name on it… I want to make sure it has the same philosophy which is inclusiveness… I want to make sure that anyone who wants to take dancing can take dancing at any level they want,” Stapleton said.

Former New York City Balanchine dancer and long-term colleague of Stapleton, Wilhelmina Frankfurt, will be taking over as the Artistic Director position in Jun. 2022.

“About five years ago Virginia asked me to come set some Balanchine ballets in the springtime, then she asked me if I could teach a Balanchine intensive [over the summertime]. One thing led to another and then this year was the time to make the move… It was really five years ago that we first talked about it…Miss Stapleton felt that I was the right person to maintain the culture of this school,” Frankfurt said.

Despite keeping Stapleton’s inclusive values, Frankfurt anticipates that she will be making some changes to the school. She hopes to increase the styles of dance taught at Stapleton, by adding more hip-hop, jazz, and tap classes to their curriculum and wants to improve their theater program by increasing its members. Frankfurt also wants to make sure the classes at Stapleton are available to everyone through increasing Stapleton’s scholarship funds.

Although Stapleton is stepping down as the Artistic Director, she will still continue to be involved in the community, and the values she put in place will stay under the instruction of Frankfurt.