Retailer Spotlight: The Ballet Boutique Company

Retailer Spotlight: The Ballet Boutique Company

By Ronni Sandroff | Apr. 2017  | Dance Retailer News

“Elegance and class without the high prices!” That’s the selling point of the newest Ballet Boutique in a spanking new shopping center in downtown Doral, FL, a fast-growing city near Miami. Entering the spacious store is like walking into a theater. A 4 1/2–foot rosy pink moiré satin curtain hangs from the high ceiling, and five delicate chandeliers light the stage. Behind the curvaceous white checkout desk straight ahead sits owner Gabriela Martinez, who does much of the pointe shoe fitting herself at her two stores in Florida and three in Mexico. To scale the brand, she has also sold a franchise—her first—in Veracruz.

The secret to her success? “Desperation,” Martinez says, with a rueful smile. When a divorce left her with three boys to support, her earnings from teaching ballet didn’t cover her expenses. So she began to visit ballet studios in her native Yucatan Peninsula to sell pointe shoes from the back of her old car.

Well-Fitted Shoes
Decades of performing and teaching ballet made her sensitive to the plight of dancers suffering from poorly fitted shoes. “It’s a myth that ballet has to cause pain and destroy your feet,” she says.

Winning customers with well-fitted shoes, Martinez soon closed her ballet school and devoted herself to the art and science of pointe shoe fitting. Her university studies in business helped, and a higher degree in marine biology inspired her to take a scientific approach. “I have over 4,000 charts so I can track individual customers’ histories,” she says. “My stores carry all the major brands of pointe shoes and keep a huge inventory, more than 600 pairs, in stock.”

At the barre where she fits the dancers, there’s a sign stating that she charges $30 for the fitting if the customer doesn’t buy the shoes. But, she notes, this has never actually happened. The attention to customer service may explain why. “I’ll open the store for teachers at 8:30 am. I want every customer to leave satisfied,” she says.

Martinez recently lectured on fitting methods at the Florida Dance Education Organization, and she trains employees, and now franchise owners, in fitting technique, including padding selection, which she feels is as important as the shoes themselves.

Dance moms are her best source of customers. “If a girl is dancing in pain and I fit her, both she and her mom stop crying,” she says. “The word of mouth spreads fast.”  Expert pointe shoe fittings are a draw for the store. Martinez, who has performed and taught ballet, trains her employees in her fitting technique and has lectured about fitting methods at the Florida Dance Education Organization.

Going International
It was the cost of pointe shoes that inspired Martinez to open her first U.S. store in South Miami. “Because pointe shoes are not manufactured in Mexico, I need to pay for them in dollars, so to have enough margin to grow, I need to earn dollars,” she says. She had a rough start when a couple of Miami landlords refused to lease her prime locations because she was Mexican.

Once the South Miami store was profitable, she cast her net to Doral, a growing community with a large Venezuelan population. “It’s home to young two-income families who want their kids in cultural activities, to be well-rounded. I was the new girl in town, so when I opened the store, I visited 30 dance schools in the area.”

To help combat prejudice and establish her image, she framed dozens of large photos of herself performing and posing with star dancers from august companies, such as American Ballet Theatre, National Ballet of Cuba and Paris Opéra Ballet. “I don’t have photos in my stores in Mexico,” she says. “There everybody knows me.”

Martinez pulls out a stack of pretty handwritten thank-you notes ready to be mailed out to the dance teachers she’d met with. “Small details count,” she says.

So does giving back, through simple things like volunteering to put the dancers’ hair in buns before a recital and contributing to schools’ silent auctions. There is also a Ballet Boutique scholarship award in the U.S. and Mexico. A public art school chooses a ballet student who is very talented, has good grades in school and is struggling financially. The prize is all dance attire for a year. In the U.S., the award is presented by the head of the Mexican consulate.

Martinez planned the award program with her three sons, now all professionals. Her youngest works for her on Saturdays and travels with her to Mexico, where she goes every other week. And she’s now been remarried for a year, to a banker who helped her with her first U.S. store.

The pink moiré satin of the store’s two large theater-like curtains is carried through on the chairs and pointe shoe fitting bench. Table displays are changed every three weeks.

Not Just Pointe Shoes
Six months after opening, the Doral store is covering rent and payroll, and business is expected to double or triple soon. While pointe and other dance shoes are the main profit center, each store—which has its own manager in charge—adapts to the local market.

In South Miami, a lot of the customers are gymnasts. In Doral, there is more interest in flamenco and ballroom dance. Martinez works with the teachers to design and choose fabrics for flamenco costumes, which she manufactures in a small factory in Mexico. “Flamenco skirts need artistry for the ruffling and can be very expensive and are not found easily online.” The factory also makes Ballet Boutique’s own brand of ballet slippers, jazz shoes, and flamenco shoes.

At the Doral shop, dance uniforms can be embroidered with the schools’ names. In February, the store window was full of warm-up booties, another popular item. She carries racks of fancy tutus for ballerinas-to-be, which are mainly purchased by grandmothers. And there was a big stuffed dog in a tutu and hair bows sitting on a tiny chair outside the store.

For the sheer pleasure of it, Martinez teaches a baby ballet class for 2- and 3-year-olds early Saturday mornings in the store’s small studio. Her goal is simply to instill a love of ballet. And,
of course, by inspiring very young dancers and their mothers, she hopes
to see them back as customers for years to come.

Art Basel Miami Side Fairs Provide Surprise and Color

Art Basel Miami Side Fairs Provide Surprise and Color

Art fairs, petite and tall, accompany Art Basel and Art Miami like a very long train of bridesmaids and ushers. Whether they’re at grand hotels or displayed in rooms emptied of beds in small ones, the galleries work their hearts out to showcase the works, and the profusion of art is pleasantly unpredictable and often thrilling. Here prices range from the possibly affordable to the not so, and the collectors seem hipper but just as knowledgeable as the posh crowd at Art Basel.

Here are a few of the unexpected pieces that stopped me in my tracks at Scope.

The Art of Provocation, Art Basel Miami 2016

The Art of Provocation, Art Basel Miami 2016

By Ronni Sandroff | Dec. 2016  |

While 20th-century art seemed to dominate the showings at Art Basel Miami this year, a work that was only a month old attracted the most attention. Artist Rirkrit Tiravanija seized the moment and used the November 9th N.Y. Times to make a statement in three huge identical pieces, varying only in that the slogan is printed in red, white or blue. The work by Tiravanija, a Thai-born in Argentina and now based in New York, Berlin, and Chiang Mai, sold immediately after the show opened, according to Art News.

The chaos and irony of our more interior life was highlighted in works such as Psychonavigation by Charlene Von Heyl and Never Kissing You Back by Sean Landers. And, an astonishing apartment installation, commissioned by Fondation Beyeler, the Swiss museum, and created by Italian artists Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari’s magazine project, Toilet Paper, was, among other things, an uproarious comment on our sexualized consumerism.

The fair boasted a rich offering of well-known 20th-century masters and a Cabinet showcase on Asgar Jorn, 1914-1973, a flamboyant and little recognized Danish artist.

Interview: Artist Chuck Close Decodes His Compelling Portraits

Interview: Artist Chuck Close Decodes His Compelling Portraits

By Ronni Sandroff | Mar. 2016  |

The faces, looming larger-than-life, often staring straight at you, are unguardedly and unglamorously human. They seem so real that you can sense the rumble of the person’s thoughts. Yes, the paintings and photographs of renowned New York artist Chuck Close, 76, can take some getting used to. When you view a photograph, it’s as if you’re staring deep into a person that you suddenly know all too well.

Close has photographed, painted, woven, and imaginatively reinterpreted many times, a core set of almost wall-size portraits. The colorful pixelated painting versions are the most ravishing – and yield a series of different visions as you walk toward and away from them. But though Close can border on the abstract, the strong gaze of his subjects bores through. The subjects (including himself) have almost blank expressions and don’t overtly show emotion. They seem unposed, and somehow objective.

At the March 4 PAMM Art of the Party gala in Miami, which honored the artist, Close answered a few questions for L’Etage Magazine that I’ve long wondered about.

When you’re doing a portrait, do you consciously try not to “editorialize” about the person who is the subject of your work?

Chuck Close: I try to be rather neutral and flat-footed, but I’m sure there’s some editorial work in there somewhere. I don’t flatter anybody, but I also don’t try to make them look worse.  No matter how much they hate it when I do it, ten or 15 years later they think they look pretty good.

Even in your portraits of well-known people, such as Kate Moss and Justin Timberlake, we see an unfamiliar side of them. How do you work with models to achieve this?

Chuck Close:  I don’t let them put on makeup, and I don’t do photoshop. There’s something kind of wonderful about people before they try to improve themselves. There’s a certain kind of honesty to it. When I apologized to Kate Moss, she said: “oh its ok I’ve had a million pretty photos taken.” (Laughs)

You’ve said your favorite painter is Johannes Vermeer. His faces also often have enigmatic expressions. Can you talk about how he has influenced you?

Chuck Close – I think I can figure out how any painting in the history of the world was made except for Vermeer’s. (His paintings) are like an apparition. Just magical. It’s the fact that they’re so special that impresses me. I never care about the story. I’m a formalist. I don’t care who the letter (in Vermeer’s “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter”) is from. It’s like he paints blue on the canvas in a divine breath.

Pop Artist Rosalyn Drexler breaks barriers at Art Basel Miami

Pop Artist Rosalyn Drexler breaks barriers at Art Basel Miami

“If you want a message, get a fortune cookie,” veteran pop artist Rosalyn Drexler laughingly told L’Etage Magazine when she was asked what she thought the many women artists displayed at this year’s Art Basel Miami might have in common. “I come to art not looking for anything and I find it,” said Drexler during her Art Basel DIALOG event at the convention center on December 4th.Drexler, who is suddenly selling paintings after decades of neglect, is wary of being femcast. But she acknowledged that works by women artists were considered unsellable in the 1960s. At the time, she says she didn’t quite understand that men were in and women were out. Warhol did a series of Drexler in a wrestling stance (she did a tour as a woman wrestler, her means of going on the road) in “Albums of a Mat Queen 1962.”

“I was a good-fellow and I appreciated Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein,” Drexler said. “When I was in the company of artists, I didn’t mention myself.” Unfashionably for the times, Drexler’s canvases were warm with feelings, often uneasy ones. “Emotional content was a no no for Warhol and Lichtenstein,” she said. “There were a lot of drugs. Everything was marvelous. They managed to have no pain but only images of it.” As an artist, playwright (she won three Obie awards), writer, wife and mother, Drexler says she didn’t have time for drugs. And she believes pain is important for art.Her powerful “Marilyn Pursued by Death,” 1963, is frightening, and one of a very few Marilyn images that do not now seem exploitative. Like Warhol, Drexler appropriated images; hers came from movie posters, sports illustration and television. “A real thing happens so it can be appropriated as a reminder,” she said.Another gripping painting is a grim reminder of the “Death of Benny “Kid” Paret 1963,” a Cuban welterweight boxer who died from injuries sustained in a televised match. The painting consists of six small televised shots of the boxing match against a black background which seem to capture the sinister action as well as the flashing of the tv screen.Her process was to find an image that interested her and work it up on different size canvases. “The size also works emotionally on the subject matter,” she said. She made collages and painted in vivid colors over and around the images. “The image lives more when I paint over it,” she said, “The intent is mine.”Its hard to know how seriously to take Drexler’s discussion of “The Dream,” a work that pairs a rageful movie-poster gorilla and a terrified brunette. “A beast can have love for a creature,” she said. “The woman is terrified, the gorilla is an action guy. Its about violence and love, and forbidden love.” Then she noted: “I was always an outsider laughing at my own ideas.”

The irrepressible Ms. Drexler, now 89, talked at DIALOG with Christopher Bedford from the Rose Art Museum in Waltham, MA. The museum will be hosting a retrospective of her work, “Rosalyn Drexler: Who Does She Think She Is?” from Feb 12-June 5, 2016.

Garth Greenan, Director, Garth Greenan Gallery, New York that displayed Drexler’s work in Art Basel’s Survey sector, said it was the perfect platform for overlooked or under-appreciated artists, and that Drexler’s work seems to be finally getting the recognition it deserves and is being placed with major institutions.

Off the Wall Art at Art Boca Raton

Off the Wall Art at Art Boca Raton

By Ronni Sandroff | Mar. 2016  |

Some of my favorite pieces in the 42 galleries exhibiting at the first annual Art Boca Raton were both on and off the wall, which produced a dynamic energy.  Among the most striking was Helen Lopez “Alone in My Little World, 2015” in which a tree branch breaks out of a wall and is hung with a beautifully textured collage. Lopez is identified as a student, which also took breath away.

The wall sculpture artists at the show used an eclectic array of materials, and many pieces hang enough off the wall that their shadows become part of the art. Slip Casted porcelain was used by Natalia Arbelaez to form five expressive human heads, in “Insignificant Grandeur (self-supporting heads). “Tooling Around” a 21 x 57 mixed media by Elayna Toby Singer, is made mostly of metal. And Maximilano Pecce’s exuberant motorcycle, “On My Way” is made of melted plastic. Painted laser cut steel forms Tom Wesselmann’s “Steel Drawing-Sitting Nude” 1986-87. It does have the fluidity of a drawing with a beckoning touch of dimensionality.

Moving from off the wall to on the table, Sam Tufnell’s beautiful “Wynwood Resurrection” 2016 is made of cast resin with lighted pedestal included. And, I was delighted by Alfredo Sosabraovo’s colorful and comic Murano glass sculpture, and even more amused when I saw the title: “Bureaucrat.” I especially liked the birds perched on the bureaucrat’s skull.

There are also plenty of interesting paintings to see, including a large showing of Russian Boris Alexandrovich Chetov’s (1926-2010) easy to take expressionism, cubism, and abstractions.  Art Boca Raton runs through Monday, March 21, 11-6 pm, at the International Pavilion of the Palm Beaches, Research Park at Florida Atlantic University 3450 NW 8th Avenue, Boca Raton.