Sharing Ballet

Tutu School brings music, storytelling to kids

Tutu School002

Originally from Chicago, professional ballerina and performance aficionado LARA O’BRIEN has been dancing since childhood. In opening Wilmington’s Tutu School, O’Brien now brings her passion for movement to up-and-coming dancers all around the Port City.

“As a young performer, I fell in love with everything that moving to music provided me. It was so joyful and freeing,” she says, with a smile. “Dancing was a way to express myself that was true to me.” Across her two-decade career, ballet has taken her across the stages of the world. As a principal dancer for Raleigh’s Carolina Ballet, O’Brien has graced stages in Philadelphia, New York City, and Copenhagen, with leading roles in Europe and Asia.

Eventually, her love of dancing led to a love of teaching, and in 2015, O’Brien opened her first Tutu School in Raleigh. “It was an extension of my life as a ballerina,” she says. “Sharing magic through movement, music, and storytelling. Doing this with children, in this unique way, was full circle for me.”

After launching a second Tutu School in Cary, the coast was calling. Over the years, O’Brien had spent several summers dancing, teaching, and performing in Wilmington through Carolina Ballet’s Summer Residencies at UNCW. “When the opportunity arose to bring Tutu School to life in Wilmington, I jumped at the chance!” she shares. “I’m excited to be sharing what I love about ballet with the children and families of Wilmington again.”

Creativity through sound is an important part of the Tutu curriculum, she explains. “Music is as core to our program as motor skill development is to the fundamental principles of ballet. Music guides movement into little bodies, and it conjures the emotions that our young dancers explore in our classes,” she says. “Students use cymbals, maracas, and rhythm sticks to explore creating their own music to dance to.” Add to that classical ballet scores of Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky, all part of the Tutu School’s Ballet Storytime curriculum.

With other ballerinas and performers on staff, all teachers at the Tutu School hold a rich resume in the art of movement. Instructor RACHEL SMITH is a demi-soloist with the US International Ballet in Wilmington, while Studio Manager MOLLY CRUMPTON brings a background in professional theater, dancing, and teaching.

From ballet-themed camps to recital opportunities for all enrollees, the Tutu School keeps Wilmington’s young dancers engaged year-round. “I believed strongly in the joy and whimsy, and also a deeper purpose, that dancing gave me,” shares O’Brien. “I knew it could make a difference for other young children, regardless of where their dreams may lead.”

The Tutu School in Wilmington offers ballet classes for children 18 months to 8 years old, and classes run all year long. There are flexible monthly memberships and ongoing enrollment, with a free trial class for prospective dancers.

The Tutu School of Wilmington will be hosting a Holiday Land of Sweets Soiree in December, open to the public.

To view more of photographer Terah Hoobler’s work, go to

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Categories: Features