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Ballet + Boxing: How to Create (a) Movement

Check back each month for the Original Thinker Series as we explore local innovation in entrepreneurship, the arts, and our community one pioneering mind at a time.

“I think it was really curiosity that brought us together,” says Zoé Emilie Henrot, the Artistic Director at St. Paul Ballet. The “us” she refers to is a partnership between her dance company and their next door neighbors: Element boxing gym. “We decided not to be cold neighbors, we decided to be in each other’s lives and that is what started it.”

In 2014, St. Paul Ballet needed room to grow and began leasing studio space from Element Boxing & Fitness. Since then the two organizations have been making waves through a dynamic collaboration which has included interdisciplinary training, co-performances, and a Knight Foundation award. “As we continue to progress, we want to become a symbol for unity,” says Dalton Outlaw, CEO and Founder of Element. “If we are all neighbors, if we all exist together, why can’t we work together?”

Both boxing and ballet enjoy rich traditions within the history of human movement. There have been other examples of cross-training between ballet dancers and boxers but the bond that St. Paul Ballet and Element share is something rare and wonderful. “If you are open to giving and receiving a lot can happen,” says Zoé. “In moving together, in figuring out how to be on stage, how to make it work, spending time together and getting to know each other – that’s created this whole community.”

The James J. Hill Center recently hosted a public screening of The Art of Boxing, the Sport of Ballet – a live experience co-directed by Zoé and Dalton. The performance allows audiences to contemplate both boxer-as-artist and dancer-as-athlete in a celebration of movement that is almost sacred in tone. “It’s not about being judged. It’s not about looking a certain way. In those moments when we are performing together it is about feeling,” says Dalton.

Next on the horizon for these two organizations is a ‘movement space’ for the people of Saint Paul. Zoé and Dalton share a vision for a place where anyone can come to experience not only the freedom to move but the freedom that comes from movement. This facility would house their studio and gym and be available for the community to gather. “We’ve talked a lot about windows, I think a lot of stereotypes come from not seeing other people or watching them move in space,” says Zoé.

What is it that has allowed such a unique partnership to develop here? What makes Zoé and Dalton ‘original thinkers’ is something very fundamental: human curiosity. Proximity only leads to partnership when we allow ourselves to be open to the other and to find value in what they bring to the table (or, in this case, the studio/gym). “It’s not just about sport or art,” says Dalton. “It’s about people.”

Catch another performance of The Art of Boxing – The Sport of Ballet at the Ordway on Sunday, April 15th. Tickets and more information available here


Written by Christopher Christenson, Marketing & Events Coordinator, at the James J. Hill Center. Have an idea of a person or organization to feature in this series? Send your recommendations to
[email protected].

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Patrons with accessibility needs please access our ground floor elevator entrance via Kellogg Ave at the back of the building. Please ring the doorbell on the right hand side of door and a Hill staff member will assist you. If you have questions or concerns please call 651.265.5500. We look forward to having you visit.

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