Bené Arnold, a seminal figure in Utah’s dance community and Ballet West’s first Ballet Mistress, passed away on January 25, 2024, at the age of 88. Arnold’s legacy is marked by her significant influence in shaping the careers of countless dancers at Ballet West and the University of Utah’s dance program.
Arnold’s dance journey began at the San Francisco Ballet School in 1948, where she quickly ascended to the position of Soloist. She later joined Ballet West in 1964 as the first Ballet Mistress under the direction of Willam Christensen, setting a high standard for the company.
Beyond her work with Ballet West, Arnold also made substantial contributions to academia. In 1975, she joined the University of Utah’s Department of Ballet, where she continued to inspire and develop young talents. Even during her tenure at the university, she remained actively involved with Ballet West, notably as a rehearsal director for young performers in “The Nutcracker” and as director of the Ballet West Academy.
Arnold’s contributions to dance in Utah were widely recognized. She received accolades including a citation from the Utah State Senate in 1984, the Chamber of Commerce Award and the Governor’s Award for the Arts in 1997, and was honored with the College of Fine Arts Excellence award in 2001. Upon her retirement, she was named Distinguished Professor Emerita.
Her impact extended beyond Ballet West; Arnold was instrumental in staging Willam Christensen’s works for both Ballet West and the Cincinnati Ballet. Additionally, she choreographed productions for the Utah Opera and Arizona Opera, bringing to life classics like “The Merry Widow,” “Aida,” and “Carmen.” In 1985, she notably re-created the role of Fatme in Ballet West’s historic reconstruction of “Abdallah.”
Peter Christie, Ballet West’s Director of Education and Outreach, praised Arnold for her exceptional passion in nurturing dancers and the art form. Sharee Lane, a retired dance educator, reflected on Arnold’s influence on her own career, highlighting Arnold’s courage in taking risks and her deep passion for ballet. “She inspired a lifelong learning in me and to many of her students, not because we adhered to any prescribed teaching method, but because we saw what she loved to do with her life,” said Lane. “She dared courageously to take risks, some that succeeded and some experiments that failed. However, these risks were innovated and made me rethink how to nurture growth in challenging and diverse students.”
Arnold’s dedication and influence in the world of dance leave an indelible mark, not only in Utah but in the broader dance community, making her a true pioneer and mentor in her field.
This article was written with material provided by Ballet West.
UTAH’S ART MAGAZINE SINCE 2001, 15 Bytes is published by Artists of Utah, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.