SALT LAKE CITY, UT – Ballet West’s first Ballet Mistress, Bené Arnold, passed away at 88 years of age on January 25, 2024. Recognized as one of Utah’s women pioneers of dance, Arnold influenced the lives of hundreds of dancers through Ballet West’s history and the University of Utah’s dance program. Arnold joined the San Francisco Ballet School in 1948 where she rose to the rank of Soloist before joining Ballet West as Willam Christensen’s first Ballet Mistress in 1964.
In 1975, she joined the Department of Ballet faculty at the University of Utah, but still remained involved with Ballet West, serving as rehearsal director for young dancers in The Nutcracker and directing the Ballet West Academy.
In 1984 Bené received a citation from the Utah State Senate recognizing her contribution to the state. In 1997 she received the Chamber of Commerce Award and the Governor’s Award for the Arts. She was given the College of Fine Arts Excellence award in 2001 and upon her retirement was name Distinguished Professor Emerita.
Bené was Willam Christensen’s representative and staged his works for Ballet West and the Cincinnati Ballet. She choreographed works for the Utah Opera and the Arizona Opera, including The Merry Widow, Aida and Carmen. In 1985 Bené re-created the role of Fatme in BW’s historic reconstruction of Abdallah, which began her career as a guest artist in various character roles with Ballet West, most notably Carabosse in Sleeping Beauty and Gremios Bride in The Taming of the Shrew.
“She was instrumental in guiding and shaping the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of dancers through Ballet West’s history and University of Utah Dance Department,” said Ballet West Director of Education and Outreach Peter Christie, who has been with Ballet West for 40 years. “The amount of passion that she brought to sharing and developing dancers and the art form, was uniquely remarkable.”
Retired Dance Educator Sharee Lane reflects on her experience with Arnold saying, “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.
“Having a deep, deep, unending passion for the art of ballet, Bené made it important to me, and I’m sure to many others, that real study goes on when a student dives in, gets immersed, starts swimming and just keeps going,” she continues. “That was my inheritance from knowing Bene for 54 years … as a devoted teacher and family member she undoubtedly sparked my journey as a professional dancer at Ballet West for 10 years and as a dance educator at the University of Utah School of Dance for 28 years.”