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William Starrett & Mariclare Miranda, Co-founders & Principal Instructors

Abou Us

In 1988, Columbia City Ballet’s Artistic Director, William Starrett, and Prima Ballerina, Mariclare Miranda, embarked on an exciting and challenging new venture to bring new levels of excellence to dance training in Columbia. The two opened the Columbia Conservatory of Dance at 1545 Main Street at the intersection of Main and Taylor Streets and in the heart of downtown Columbia. Long before the Columbia Museum of Art and other organizations moved to Main Street, Starrett, and Miranda had the vision of transforming the city’s most prestigious street into an arts hub. Over the years, the Columbia Museum of Art and SC Philharmonic have joined the Columbia Conservatory of Dance, by establishing their presence on Main Street.

With Starrett appointed Artistic Director and Miranda the company’s principal female dancer, these two icons of Columbia’s arts scene, began their seemingly tireless quest to offer world-class dance training to the citizens of Columbia. Both were deeply involved in transitioning Columbia City Ballet from a civic company to a fully professional ballet company that became South Carolina Ballet. Undaunted by their demanding personal and professional lives, the pair set about fulfilling their mission of making it possible for local dancers to achieve success in ballet without needing to move to a larger urban area. Among their many goals was to have a school that could offer the high degree of training and proficiency required for a professional dancer. Both with storied careers, Starrett with an international dance reputation, and Miranda, the only person to achieve the rank of Prima Ballerina in the company’s 64-year history, the pair were more than up to the challenge. 

Since its inception, Columbia Conservatory of Dance has trained numerous professional dancers from Sylvia Dansby, Erin Jaffe, Betsy Clarke, Victoria Cholkas, Taber Cathcart, and Kathryn Smoak to today’s Jordan Hawkins, Nicole Carrion, Gabrielle Gardner and Claire Rapp, students of CCD have repeatedly successfully made the transition from student to professional dancer. A successful ballet company must rely upon a successful school to adequately prepare dancers for a professional track. While Columbia Conservatory of Dance has both professional and non-professional tracks, all of its students benefit from the myriad forms of self-enhancement dance training provides. From increased self-esteem to teamwork, physical strength, poise, and grace in movement.

The success of Columbia Conservatory of Dance and South Carolina Ballet are inextricably entwined. Before her retirement, Mariclare Miranda was undeniably William Starrett’s muse. Iconic roles such as Lucy in the wildly popular William Starrett production of Dracula: Ballet with a Bite were created specifically for Mariclare. She was Starrett’s inspiration for Pocahontas, Beauty & the Beast, Hunchback, Snow White, Aladdin, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Mariclare also danced the leading roles in The Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, Cinderella, and Swan Lake.  Even the extremely well-known Starrett noted that prior to her retirement from the stage, “it was Mariclare who was famous. You couldn’t even go to the grocery store with her unless you were willing to encounter her fans.” The resounding ovations she receives when she makes cameo appearances in ballets such as Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and Romeo & Juliet are a testament to her enduring legacy and celebrity. Mariclare continues to be a significant part of South Carolina Ballet as Repetiteur, teaching company classes and providing coaching for specific roles each Performance Season in addition to being a Principal Instructor and Managing Partner at Columbia Conservatory of Dance.

As we celebrate this milestone anniversary and our annual commencement exercises, it is important to note that at Columbia Conservatory of Dance, commencement is not a performance, 

but rather a report card on our students’ progress. We encourage our students to participate in performances in child-appropriate roles, but we think it unfair to task a student with a professionally demanding role that can ultimately distract from their training and create unnecessary pressure for burgeoning talent.

Celebrating our 35th consecutive year in business, we thank you for allowing us to revisit a little of the history of the Columbia Conservatory of Dance. Thank you for choosing the Columbia Conservatory of Dance for your child’s exceptional dance training. We feel blessed and honored as we celebrate this year’s dance progress and certainly look forward to beginning our 36th year of training and teaching the artists and leaders of our community’s future.