Bepi Pinner never set out to own a dance studio, nor did she imagine herself someone who would fall in love with ballet. But at the age of thirty, Bepi found herself wanting to set the example of healthy, regular exercise for her young son. She spent years trying to find something she felt she could really stick with, but workouts like running and yoga just didn’t inspire her to keep moving. Then she discovered ballet, a practice that kept her interest while also keeping her strong in both body and mind.
Though Bepi took her first ballet class at the Ballet School of Chapel Hill, she soon migrated to a studio in Durham where adult beginners were welcomed and encouraged. She loved the studio, but after taking classes there for just a month, she learned that the owner, who had been in a bad car accident, was no longer able to teach or run the studio. At the time, Bepi was offering childcare in her own home as well as running the afterschool program at Carolina Friends School. When she found that the dance studio couldn't find a buyer, a lightbulb went off for her. Maybe this could be her own studio - allowing her to combine a new career path with her newfound love for ballet. She decided to purchase the studio and signed a one-year lease with the landlord of the building. Though she was excited about the new opportunity, she kept her gig at Friends School, just in case the dance studio venture didn’t work out. Twenty-five years later, Bepi is still the sole owner of Ninth Street Dance, and she is still taking ballet at the studio three times each week.
Ninth Street Dance is far more than just a ballet studio, though. In fact, Bepi and her administrative partner (and daughter-in-law) Abby Williamson pride themselves on offering a diverse array of dance techniques from various parts of the world. That list includes modern, lyrical, contemporary, hip-hop, belly dance, Afro-Carribean, Bollywood, and flamenco, as well as exercise classes like Pilates and cardio funk.
The Ninth Street Dance community is made up of Bepi, Abby, about thirty dance teachers, and approximately 600-700 participants each session. While many dance studios cater to children, the Ninth Street Dance clientele ranges from six-month-olds to eighty-year-olds, and many of the dancers have been coming to the studio for years. While there are many focused and serious dancers at Ninth Street Dance, the mission of the studio is more about creating a community of people who are interested in dance as a fun and fulfilling form of exercise and stress relief. Most importantly, Ninth Street Dance considers itself a safe, non judgemental place, rich with both body and age positivity.
While the face of Ninth Street has changed over the years, Bepi’s little corner of it has maintained much of the original character it had when she first discovered the studio. The upstairs space is friendly and unassuming, with colorful art, exposed brick walls, and plenty of sunlight. The Perry Street mural gracing the outside wall of Ninth Street Dance is the result of a City of Durham grant that Bepi encouraged her landlord, Larry Wood of Ninth Street Flowers, to apply for. This popular selfie spot for neighborhood locals is a beautiful reflection of Ninth Street’s vibrant and diverse culture. Bepi loves her Ninth Street neighborhood and feels very at home in it. And as a fixture of the Ninth Street business community, Ninth Street Dance is a place where movers of all kinds can feel at home, too.
When Bepi’s not at the studio, you may find her …
Making pottery. She loves to make things that are both beautiful and useful - things that people can use every day. Though she has a pottery wheel at home, she takes classes at Durham’s Claymakers and fires her pieces in the kiln there.
Listening to the music of the sixties: Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and Carol King, to name a few. She’s also looking forward to the upcoming Joan Baez show at Durham Performing Arts Center.
Traveling with her son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren (ages six and nine). Last year they went to Ecuador and this year they are planning an excursion to Columbia!
Merchant profiles are written by Kate Van Dis of Kate Van Dis Creative Content