After 50 years, Oakland Ballet School holds its last class

The Oakland Ballet School on MacArthur Boulevard has been in operation for 50 years. But it held its last class on Wednesday evening, the day after Christmas, because the landlord wants to sell the property.

Husband and wife owners Joral and Denise Schmalle are now looking for a new home. Students say the school is a place of comfort, joy and it's a path to adulthood. Perhaps most important, it's a special place of acceptance. Students say the world of dance has standards that are often rigid and demanding.

"You're never tall enough or skinny enough. But here, you can just dance," says 15-year-old Jena Thorne. "They look at more than just how you physically look, they look at your spirit." 

"It's a community. It's a family, a place of growth," says Dimitri Freeman, an 18 year old aspiring professional ballet dancer. 

Students say they've learned focus, dedication and commitment. "They took me under their wing and taught me a lot of things I've never learned before," says 14-year-old Isaia Poole who says his goal is also to dance professionally. 

Every December, the school puts on the Nutcracker at Holy Names University in Oakland. It's a chance for almost every student to perform on stage to delight audiences.

Soon after this year's performance, students and parents learned about the school's closure. "It's not just about learning positions and steps combinations, we feel it’s the materials we use to help develop children as people," says Joral Schmalle who runs the school with his wife. 

After a year of negotiating with the property owner, including the option of buying the building themselves, the couple says they were unable to come to an agreement. 

The students refuse to hang up their slippers. They hope the Schmalles will find a home-temporarily if need be, until they can find a permanent one. 

They say they will not give up on a place where they've learned invaluable lessons. 

"I feel beautiful when I dance. I think it's really important for everyone to feel that for themselves." 

The mood was bittersweet during this last class for Oakland Ballet School at this location. There was a group hug with wishes for a new home in the new year. The Schmalles are looking for a new home in the city they love: Oakland.

If anyone has information on a possible new home for Oakland Ballet School, email the owners at: