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Meet Marie-Jose Payannet of Danse Etoile Ballet in Louisville

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marie-Jose Payannet.

Marie-Jose, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Born and raised in the South of France, and even though my parents were financially struggling, the arts were always present. My dad would rather buy a painting than food or clothing, and we would often walk in the cold winter night to go watch an opera. In July, Avignon, my city, would burst with music, colors, tourism, and performers for its annual theater festival. As soon as I could walk, I danced, and everywhere I went, I would organize performances for the local audience to watch my creations on my friends and I.

I moved and worked in Paris, and when my husband’s work took him to the South of the USA, I decided to join him, longing for new adventures. After moving to Boulder, with my two children and dancing/teaching/choreographing for various local companies, I decided to found my own not-for-profit dance company. Having no idea about all the paperwork involved for founding a 501(3), and having only $100 in my pocket to do so as my husband had lost his job at the time, I knocked at various doors to get it done. Thanks to the generosity of a few who donated their time, Danse Etoile Ballet was incorporated.

With a handful of dancers, I started the journey. No studio yet, we rented spaces everywhere we could. Our first class was held on an indoor soccer field, a few others in very cold studios. Our first show was at the Boulder Library for their free festival, our second at the Dairy Arts Center and was sold out. A few years later, after looking everywhere for a space I could call home, my husband and I, with the help of some dancers, built our first studio in an old warehouse in Broomfield, then did it all again a few years later to our current location in Louisville.

We are now performing in Lafayette, Broomfield, and Boulder, mainly, as well as offering free performances to public schools and organizations. The main reward is to be a part of the artistic journey of many dancers. The moral of the story is: if you have a dream, go for it. And plan to work harder than you ever imagine. You will have help along the ways (a huge shout-out to the SCFD for believing in small organizations), you will meet haters too. It doesn’t matter. The hurdles are real, and will always be there too. Accept them as part of the journey. Trust your instincts. And create.

Has it been a smooth road?
The road is never smooth. Many struggles: of course financial, but also trust. Finding the right people who will be loyal and will understand your mission. The main one was to find and afford a space for the dance studio. Leases are very expensive in Boulder County. Theaters with an adequate stage for ballet are also a rarity, in cities like Louisville, Boulder, and Lafayette, with such an educated population, it is a struggle to book the theater as many small organizations compete with the same dates for their shows.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Danse Etoile is a “boutique” dance company. Every performance is tailored to the dancers in the company that particular season. We offer creative performances based on known stories but that no one maybe did before as a ballet: like The Huntchback of Notre-Dame or Pinnochio. We often use music created for us by a composer from Colorado. Our mission is to build the audience of tomorrow and give a chance to low-income families to being able to spend an evening at the theater like I did when I was young.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
It is very difficult to find adequate space that a nonprofit dance company like ours can afford. That is and has been our struggle from day one. Finding adequate venues for dance/ballet is and has also been a struggle. The Boulder/Louisville/Lafayette area needs to invest in such venues, accessible, medium size that non-profits art organizations can afford to rend to offer more affordable programming. If we want to promote the Arts in general, we need the cities to invest in their venues.


  • Performance ticket prices range between $25 to $15

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Randy Match Photography, Dominique Payannet

Getting in touch: VoyageDenver is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.


  1. Hermine

    March 25, 2019 at 4:04 pm

    I have attended many Danse Etoile Performances and they were all uniquely amazing. From the costumes, to the music, to the decor, not to mention the quality of the dancers. I can not recommend it enough. If you can try to catch one of their performances. You will not regret it.

  2. Eileen

    March 26, 2019 at 4:14 pm

    Not only are the performances amazing, if you are looking for a place to dance, I highly recommend Danse Etoile. In addition to dance, my daughter learned many life skills as a member of Danse Etoile such as personal discipline and time management which continue to serve her well as an adult.

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