Photo by Jeannie Frey Rhodes

Women with a Cause: Robbie Phillabaum

Cause: Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre

Like many little girls growing up in the late 1940s, Robbie Phillabaum’s lifelong love of dance was inspired by the classic movie The Red Shoes. 

She dreamed of becoming a dancer but, in her youth, could only admire the art form from afar.

“I grew up in Hersey, Pennsylvania, which has wonderful chocolate, but had very few dance teachers, and I never got a chance to dance,” says Phillabaum, who is currently serving as the board president of the Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre.

It wasn’t until she moved to Baton Rouge in 1970 that her dream was finally realized. At age 35, Phillabaum signed up for adult ballet classes at a new studio opened by Molly Buchmann and Sharon Mathews, who became the co-artistic directors of the BRBT, while their studio, the Dancers’ Workshop, became the organization’s official school.

After four years of ballet lessons, Phillabaum decided to channel her passion for dance into volunteering with BRBT. She served as the organization’s board president in 1976 and then served again in 1996.

From audience member to dance student to volunteer, donor, performer and board member, Phillabaum has led long-range planning initiatives, driven fundraising efforts, spent countless hours at meetings and events, and even volunteered her talents on stage for 10 years playing “Grandma” in BRBT’s The Nutcracker: A Tale from the Bayou.  

After more than four decades of involvement, Phillabaum says 2016 was one of the most gratifying years of service yet. BRBT successfully hosted the Regional Dance America Southwest Festival, which brought more than 800 dancers, administrators and family members to Baton Rouge. “Then, seeing our original production of Rapunzel come to life last spring … gave proof that Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre was going proudly into the future,” she says.

And following the historic flooding, Phillabaum recalls how the generous support of donors, friends in the dance community and BRBT alumni allowed the organization to distribute free dancewear and shoes to local dancers affected by the flooding.

Another motivating factor for Phillabaum is seeing dance thrive in Baton Rouge. “We are bringing dance to the community,” she says. “When you see the success; when you see a full theater; when people leave saying, ‘Boy, that was really good,’ that makes all the difference.”

BRBT’s community outreach includes master classes and lectures, a youth ballet program, scholarships, performances and workshops for local schools, providing tickets to organizations working with underserved youth, and more.

“Dance is joyful,” Phillabaum says. “It combines music and theater and performance, and it makes you feel good to be a part of it.”

What do you love about the volunteer efforts that you do?

Working with a variety of people: the young dancers, the volunteers, the ballet staff, and my fellow board members, all of whom share a passion for the joy and magic of dance.

What do you hope to achieve?

The continuation, awareness and growth of our artistic achievements and finances so that we can continue to advance our programs and presence in the community.

Is there a big/yearly event for your cause?

Of course, our own The Nutcracker: A Tale from the Bayou, December 16 and 17. Our big fundraiser is Dancin’ in the Streets, which is set for March 24, 2018, at Perkins Rowe.

What is something we don’t know about your cause?

How positive an impact we have on the community—through our dance season, our master classes, our community outreach programs and other community collaborations.