Gay Porter, Queen of Ballet in the Queen City and beyond!



People of Charlotte, please meet Gay Porter. Ms. Porter, originally from England, danced all around the world before settling in Charlotte to raise a family while continuing her dance career. As the Founder of the Charlotte School of Ballet and Director of the Charlotte Youth Ballet, Ms. Porter has passed along her strength and resilience to the countless students whom she has instructed. If you have sat in the audience for The Nutcracker during the holiday season, you may have had the honor of seeing one of Ms. Porter's productions (she has produced over 30 productions). The pictures that help tell Ms. Porter's story below are from her voluminous scrapbook.


Now, let's get to know Ms. Porter's story!


What is your coming to America story?


Originally, I am from outside of London. After years of dance classes and graduation, I toured with a ballet troupe in Great Britain. Afterwards, I auditioned in London for an opportunity to dance in Germany for three and a half months. It was during this time that I met my husband who was originally from Hendersonville, NC. We then got engaged and I applied for my immigration papers.


Elvis is part of your story. How did you meet him?


When I received my visa, my husband, Marvin, transferred from Germany to Texas and then back to Hendersonville where we were married. When Marvin was transferred back to Ft. Hood, TX, Elvis was also stationed there. It was exciting to meet Elvis.


Dancing called you to new places once again. Where this time?


I then went to California to dance with the Southern California Ballet. However, upon learning that I was expecting, we decided to move back to Hendersonville.


Gay Porter as a young ballerina

Once you moved back east, you opened your first school. Please share.


I initially opened a ballet school in Hendersonville and taught there for a year before moving to Charlotte, opening the Charlotte School of Ballet in 1968.


What led you to settle in Charlotte to raise a family and continue your career?


My husband began working as a CPA but was then drafted. Upon his return, he finished his degree at Furman University and then began working in Charlotte.


We bought a three bedroom, two bath house in Charlotte that had unfinished space in the basement. We converted that space into seven rooms and had four children in that home. All of our children attended Merry Oaks International Academy here in Charlotte.


How had you already gained a presence in Charlotte?


I danced with the Charlotte Summer Theatre during the summers for six years while taking classes in order to stay in dancer’s shape. Our performances were held at Ovens Auditorium.


Where in Charlotte was your first dance studio?


I opened Charlotte School of Ballet while directing the Charlotte Regional Ballet Company, then founded Charlotte Youth Ballet as a nonprofit in 1974. My first dance studio was on Seventh Street where Starbucks is currently located. Students now study at my studio which is located at 627 S. Sharon Amity Road.


Speaking of students, who have been some of your notable ballet students?


A notable student of mine was Mary Helen Bowers who trained Natalie Portman for her role in Black Swan. Ms. Bowers is also the Founder of balletbeautiful.com.


Mary Helen Bowers, Founder of BalletBeautiful.com

My granddaughter, Remy Young, began dancing with me at the age of four. Remy has been dancing in New York City since she was 16 years old, attending KeyStone National High School—initially staying in dorms. Now that she dances with ABT ballet, she lives in an apartment with a roommate. Remy was featured in a coffee table book titled, Ballerina Project.


Remy Young, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, featured in the book, Ballerina Project

Another student of mine, Shana Skal, became an accomplished dancer despite being told prior that she wouldn't make it. Shana attended Harvard and then danced professionally afterwards. She is still dancing.


My former student, Lisa DuPont, graduated from North Carolina School of the Arts and worked with Mikhail Baryshnikov in NYC.


Many of my former students now have their own dance companies.


Can you share any profound teaching moments?


When I first began teaching in Charlotte, the city was not integrated. I allowed a black student to practice with a white class, but the mother of a student in that class objected. When I said I only see students and talent, not color, she pulled her daughter out of the class. I never wavered on my decision. I have always selected dancers based on their skills and nothing else.



Through dance, who have you had the honor of working with?


Sir Anton Dolin, a notable British dancer and choreographer, flew into Charlotte from London, stopping in NYC first. After flying first class, Mr. Dolin stayed at the Red Carpet Inn where Judy Garland once stayed. Mr. Dolin came to Charlotte to see four of my dancers and set the choreography. It was exciting to work with him.



How did your relationship with the Charlotte Symphony begin?


The assistant conductor for the Charlotte Symphony, Willard Ray, called and asked if I was interested in working with the orchestra. I was the only ballet school to say yes, and that’s how we began working together.



Giving back is important to you. How has dance allowed you to do just that?


Through dance and the Charlotte Youth Ballet, we have been able to give back to the community throughout the years. We have danced for the Daniel Stowe Bug Bowl, Smart Start Teddy Bear Breakfast, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, Brookdale Senior Living, and church events. We held a benefit gala for International House and the United Nations Assembly at Charlotte Country Day School (we received more accolades than any other event held there). As a benefit to Freedom School Partners, the Charlotte Youth Ballet performed The Nutcracker Ball. In all, I have donated thousands of hours for charity through dance.



Your scrapbook of accomplishments, photos, performance programs, and more could fill volumes. What are some of the more touching mementos?


It’s been touching to receive letters of gratitude from parents for having a positive impact on their children. Their children have written to me and continue to write to me. I have also received letters from other ballet directors who have been impressed with our performances. The Children’s Theatre has also been grateful for our involvement and performances and has written kind words of gratitude. I save them all.



In what way have you surprised yourself?


Despite not being a “pageant person,” I assisted with the North Carolina pageant for a few years. Admittedly, I had a wonderful time attending the Miss America pageant.


You shared your granddaughter’s story above. Any other creatives in the family?


My husband, Marvin, sang in the choir for Carolina Voices’ Singing Christmas Tree for years; he was also a musician.



Our daughter, Bridget, danced in many big performances and was my first Clara in The Nutcracker in 1981. Bridget is still active in dance, teaching and more.


The Nutcracker is one of your most prized performances. How has that performance brought people to you and taken you places?


The North Carolina Dance Theatre partnered with Charlotte Youth Ballet for The Nutcracker performances. My students had the opportunity to dance with their professionals for two years. Then The Great Russian Nutcracker was brought to Charlotte by the Moscow Ballet and also danced with my school for two years. With great excitement , I was able to bring the first production of The Nutcracker to places like Gastonia and South Dakota. I have created or produced over 30 Nutcrackers.


Are we ever too old to dance?


No! In fact, we have been holding adult drop-in classes. Grandmothers have returned to ballet. It’s really special. You can visit our website to learn more.


What might people not know about you?


During my 50 years of teaching, I have never had a sick day. Ballet has kept me healthy.





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Stories have power—they teach, inspire, motivate, and challenge us.


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Interested in sharing your story with People of Charlotte?


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People of Charlotte publishes stories about everyday Charlotteans, Carolinians, and beyond. We celebrate YOUR story because YOU matter. It is our mission to promote inclusiveness, unity, understanding, community, diversity, empathy, inspiration, and compassion.


Stories have power—they teach, inspire, motivate, and challenge us.


Stories help us to not only see others but to see ourselves more clearly, as we connect with the life stories of those in our community; a community that is strengthened by the power that is unleashed by the collective energy of individual stories.


Interested in sharing your story with People of Charlotte?


Email peopleofCLT@gmail.com to learn more!

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