Virginia Byron ’10 was participating in a ballet class in New York City earlier this year when she spotted a familiar sight: a dancer wearing a Princeton University Ballet (PUB) sweatshirt. Although she had never met the woman, Byron, a pediatrician currently in a fellowship for adolescent medicine, introduced herself.
She turned out to be Paige Sherman ’25, a current PUB member, and as Byron recalls, “She was like, ‘Oh yeah, I know you.’ ”
That’s because Byron, alongside Alexis Branagan ’11 and Elizabeth Rosen ’10, founded PUB in 2008 after identifying what they saw as a gap in the University’s dance offerings.
The group, which started with a handful of dancers performing at a Tiger Night event in hopes of recruiting new members, now has a competitive audition process and has grown to about 50 students, both undergraduate and graduate. About 30 are “active” at any given time, meaning they commit to attending weekly company class and dancing in that semester’s performance.
Getting the company off the ground wasn’t easy — Byron admits that she had to make sacrifices, including time devoted to her coursework, while starting PUB — but the organization had an immediate impact.
“If we didn’t make PUB happen, my entire college experience would’ve been drastically, drastically different. My entire life would’ve been different,” said Branagan.
Rosen, an attorney at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, recalls that since she “viewed ballet as a foundational form of dance … it was surprising to me that a company focused on ballet didn’t exist on our campus and didn’t exist on many other college campuses [at that time] as well.”
Branagan danced professionally for several years and is now the communications and events coordinator for Princeton University Concerts. She and Byron note that PUB’s founding came at a crucial time for the arts on campus. Work on the Lewis Center for the Arts complex, which includes a dedicated dance theater, was just getting under way. Branagan believes the facilities attracted more dancers to Princeton.
Princeton currently offers more than 20 dance courses and a dance certificate, but not a major. There are more than a dozen student dance groups.
Today, in addition to working with guest choreographers, PUB encourages its members to choreograph pieces and get involved behind the scenes.
“Because we’re student-run, all of our company classes are taught by members of the company. So, it’s a really good opportunity for everyone to get a chance to kind of step up and lead and dance with their peers,” said Mirabelle Weinbach ’25, an electrical and computer engineering major and former PUB publicity co-chair.
“We really focus on creating a space where dancers feel empowered to perform and to practice ballet,” said Vivian Li ’24, a neuroscience major and current PUB president. “We want to really make sure that everyone is feeling supported and it’s a fun place to dance.”
The group also regularly plans and gets together for weekly dinners, trips, invited speakers, and other events. Their show last fall, Cinema, was movie-themed, so the company hosted movie nights for members. “That was really fun, to be able to watch movies that our choreographers based their dances off of,” said Li.
Simon Morrison *97, a professor of music at Princeton, described his role as faculty adviser of PUB for the past eight years as his life’s work on campus. With the company reaching its 15th year, Morrison called the milestone “amazing” and added “it’s going to just keep growing and growing. … It really fills a need.”
PUB will celebrate its 15th anniversary with a spring show, En Avant, in Hearst Theater from April 27 to 29. The performances will include works choreographed by current students, a piece choreographed by PUB alum Felicity Audet ’21, and a set classical ballet piece.
The Princeton University Ballet produced this parody video of Black Swan more than a decade ago: