Young People’s Ballet Theatre was founded in 1988 by Flint native, Denise Paavola. After a fulfilling professional career with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Ballet Michigan, she saw a need for a new performance company here in Flint, with opportunities for serious ballet dancers to train and perform beyond their regular dance classes. With support from her husband Gary, also a former dancer, she opened a studio, Paavola School of Dance, which served as the classical foundation for dancers and became the home school for YPBT for twenty-four years. Students studied with high quality teachers and choreographers and performed ballets based on stories from children’s literature. The dancers learned how to work as a team and also learned how to produce a complete theatrical experience for audiences of all ages. Each year, they also performed modern, contemporary and jazz works so as to develop a good balance in their training.

During her twenty-four years as Artistic Director, Denise proudly produced and directed seven favorite classics as well as twenty-two new story ballets that were originated on YPBT dancers by some incredibly talented choreographers, which included: Dale Brannon, Ruth Leney-Midkiff, Christine Mangia, Justin Gibbs, Paul Abrahamson, Jon Benoit and Tom Morrell. Spring Gala’s brought in new choreographers who created modern, contemporary and jazz variations; these included Guiseppe Canale, Scott Heinrich, Alan Obuzor, Jennifer Wiley, Kennet Oberly and Michael Grooms.

Many of her accomplished dancers have continued to dance at the college level and many have gone on to dance with professional companies. During her time with YPBT, students who went on to dance as professionals include: Jennifer Vierow, Andrea Deline, Gretchen Paavola, Kalle Paavola, Nehemiah Kish, Sarah Ramaker, Kimberly Stinson, Jesakkah Serra, Katie Wiley, Katie Mattar, Dani Mattar, Katie Miller, Sasha York and Caroline Wiley.

The focus of the company’s artistic philosophy is to develop the art of ballet through professional training and performance. However, there are so many more aspects of the company that continue to be an important part of every dancer who has become a member. Although all YPBT dancers will not pursue a professional career, it continues to inspire dancers, provides excellent technical training, develops an understanding of team work, character and self-discipline, acts as an athletic endeavor and allows dancers to perform in front of an audience. After being a member of YPBT, dancers leave with an excellent knowledge and appreciation of the art of ballet.

Denise Paavola retired as Artistic Director in 2012, passing her philosophy and passion for dance on to a new group of teachers, choreographers and dancers. She continues to teach advanced students at the newly formed YPBT School.