Katie Smythe began studying ballet with her grandmother, Mary Clay Tate Smythe as soon as she could walk. As a student of Memphis Ballet, she studied with the Royal Academy of Dance and in the master class of the Banff Centre of Fine Arts. After graduating from Central High School, she performed professionally with the Minnesota Dance Theater and in New York and Los Angeles, creating programming for the Los Angeles Music Center’s arts in the schools. Returning to Memphis in 1997, she founded New Ballet Ensemble & School in 2001: to create a rigorous training program and an ensemble culture for the purpose of breaking down racial and economic barriers, opening its doors for every Memphis child to study dance, regardless of the ability to pay.
Smythe has guided NBE to widen its artistic scope beyond classical ballet, seeking out talented young dancers from the city’s vibrant dance scene. By welcoming self-taught dancers into NBE’s classes Smythe has engineered a way for the Memphis voice to inform classical ballet.
Smythe’s choreographic fusion of formal and inherent dance has become New Ballet’s trademark. Acclaimed by the NY Times, and Washington Post, Katie’s creative work in Nut ReMix ™, Harlem at the John F. Kennedy Center and her work with Charles “Lil Buck” Reilly have brought international attention to NBE, its high quality training and inclusive mission.
On Smythe’s watch, New Ballet Ensemble has become a Creative Youth Development organization, focused on developing the educational and social skills of all students. In addition to dance training, students receive one-on-one tutoring and mentoring. The College Bound program prepares young dancers for college and the admissions process. Through the satellite programs in Title 1 schools, New Ballet has adopted a two generation approach, opening a Family Resource Center in the Orange Mound neighborhood to address expressed needs of parents including support services for financial literacy, completion of high school, and socio-emotional health.
Since 2008, 100% of NBE graduates have attended college. In 2014, Katie accepted the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award on behalf of New Ballet Ensemble and School from Michelle Obama at the White House. In 2015, seven seniors earned over $800,000 in cumulative college scholarship offers.
Smythe serves on the board of the National Guild for Community Arts Education and is a founding board member of the Levitt Shell. She has twice been named teacher of the year by the Governor’s School of the Arts and has also served on the Memphis Youth Guidance Commission, the Tennessee Association of Dance, the Community Learning Arts Education panel at the Tennessee Arts Commission and was a delegate to the first Creative Youth Development Summit in Boston MA.