A Chance to Dance


Note: This essay was first published in Stance on Dance’s spring/summer 2023 print issue. To learn more, visit stanceondance.com/print-publication.

A little girl, a young man, and perhaps you… take a chance to dance!

As Martha Graham said, “There is only one of you in all time.” We each come into the world with different capacities and talents and follow unique life paths. Sometimes we discover these early in life and sometimes later. Adelaide Vienneau née Mallette entered the dance world at six years of age in Nashville, Tennessee, and achieved success as a ballerina with New York City’s Dance Theatre of Harlem. Years later, her son, Preston Vienneau, entered the world of dance in Nashville at age 27 with MOVE Inclusive and, at age 29, began performing when he joined Dance Express in Fort Collins, Colorado. And I have the privilege of sharing their stories with you.

Adelaide is seated in a chair and Preston stands behind her. They look up and smile.

Photo by Jim Vienneau

Following a pediatrician’s advice to study ballet to help correct Adelaide’s clubfeet, her mother, Pazetta, phoned multiple dance studios in Nashville. After being rejected by some because of race, the family found the Albertine School of Dance. Founder Ellen Albertine Chaiser Maxwell did not discriminate in accepting students of color. From years of dance with the Chicago Opera, Adolph Bolm Dance Company, and Ruth St. Denis Dance Company, she believed in the power of dance for everyone.

Early on it became apparent that Adelaide had a passion for ballet. She studied with Albertine for 12 years in Nashville and performed with the Nashville Ballet. For eight summers in Bar Harbor, Maine, with Albertine Maxwell’s Summer Dance Program, Adelaide honed her ballet talents under classically trained Russian ballerina Felia Doubrovska and the kind ballet master from Kentucky, Norman Shelburne. Accomplishments followed her hard work and dedication. In 1980, she moved to New York City with the support of Madame Doubrovska to train at the prestigious School of American Ballet founded by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein. With such great talent, Adelaide gained the privilege of being coached by Russian-born prima ballerina Alexandra Danilova, renowned teacher Suki Schorer, and the enthusiastic and inspiring Andrei Kramarevsky while at the School of American Ballet.

Studying part time at Fordham University in Lincoln Center and working as an au pair for a family, she pursued dance studies for three summers with the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Noted as the first Black classical ballet company, Dance Theatre of Harlem, founded by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook in 1969, was taking the world by storm. Adelaide was invited to tour as a member of the professional touring company in 1983. She traveled extensively with the multiethnic company of 50 dancers throughout the United States, Canada, South America, and Europe. She still recalls the productions of Firebird, Creole Giselle (as re-visioned by Arthur Mitchell), and especially Balanchine’s Four Temperaments, Serenade, Square Dance, Concerto Barocco, and Stars and Stripes.

Two men accompany a woman in a ballet. The photo is in black and white.

“Creole Giselle,” Dancers from left to right are: Mitchell McCarthy, Adelaide Mallette, and Allen Sampson. Photo courtesy Adelaide Vienneau.

When asked about highlights in her dance career, Adelaide says: “Many come to mind…” Dancing in Balanchine’s famous ballets; performing in London in the presence of Dame Margot Fonteyn and at the esteemed Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; appearing at the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center in front of family and friends. Certainly, performing during the Closing Ceremony of the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles “was a great honor.” Dance Theatre of Harlem represented the dance arts of the United States on a world level for more than 2.6 billion people. Adelaide will never forget the applause of the crowd (with approximately 92,000 people in attendance at the LA Coliseum that night) nor the genuine unity and camaraderie of the moment.

Leaving the spotlight, in 1988 Adelaide retired from the stage to continue her education at Vanderbilt University and start a family with her husband, James Vienneau. Resettled in Nashville, their son, Preston, was born in 1993, bringing additional joy to their world. At age five, Preston was diagnosed with high functioning Asperger’s on the autism spectrum, and at age ten, with type 1 diabetes. For any family this would be a challenge. The Vienneaus navigated the peaks and valleys along the way, looking for the joy and taking a positive approach in the difficult and challenging times. One fellow parent whose son had Angelman syndrome shared a bit of advice with Adelaide: “Always leave room for your child to amaze you.”

Preston is amazing. He completed a certificate in Business Administration and worked for five years at Vanderbilt University Medical Center as an administrative assistant. He’s excelled in playing tennis and basketball. He trained as a veterinary technician to work with animals in humane shelters and volunteered at various nonprofit agencies, including the local food bank.

As an accomplished visual artist, his art is displayed throughout the United States. And where does dance enter his life? Naturally, Preston first danced as a baby in his mother’s arms. As a young adult, just after the onset of the pandemic, he enrolled in dance classes with MOVE Inclusive Dance in Nashville, Tennessee, founded by Lauren Morris in 2018. There he enjoyed learning dance for himself and in community with others. In 2022, when the family moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, Preston joined Dance Express.

As an inclusive dance company, Dance Express improves lives through dance. Founded in 1989, Dance Express focuses on creating quality, artistic dance productions balanced with the joy of dance. Enhancing self-expression and community engagement through dance for persons with developmental disabilities over 16 years of age, Dance Express meets a community need in the arts and inspires not only the dancers, but also the regional community. Founder Mary Elizabeth Lenahan’s sister, Theresa Lenahan, loved to dance and showed an innate sense of rhythm and joy in movement. She also had Down syndrome. Because of her, Dance Express was born. Of the first eight dancers to audition, seven had Down syndrome and six were selected. The mother of one of the men in the original troupe said she was thrilled to have a place for her son to dance other than the end of the driveway. As a modern dance troupe for persons with and without disabilities, Dance Express is dedicated to providing dance training and performance opportunities with the long-term vision to be nationally and internationally recognized.

Through participating in weekly classes and rehearsals, Preston was ready to perform in his first production, DREAMS in DECEMBER, in December 2022 at the Lincoln Center Magnolia Theatre, the smaller proscenium theater at the local performing arts center in Fort Collins. At first he admits he was nervous, and then the thrill of the stage won him over.

Preston stands onstage with one arm in a snap position in front of him and the other arm raised to his side.

Preston in “DREAMS in DECEMBER,” Photo courtesy Dance Express.

His mom feels he has found another community of friends that she wants to see flourish over time. Preston enjoys learning choreography and having the opportunity to perform. He even says he would consider helping to teach the adaptive dance workshops offered by Dance Express in schools and community centers. He has a musician friend on the autism spectrum who composes original music, with which Preston might like to dance. At home, Preston practices and consults with his mom about dance steps, technique, and how to manage anxiety before performing. “It warms my heart when he asks me questions about the dance world or shares some of the choreography with me,” Adelaide shares. “On a deeper level, it makes me tremendously happy to see him flourish on his own in another creative field. The arts are a powerful way to build self-esteem, confidence, and self-expression. I see all of those in Preston when he is dancing.”

You might be asking yourself whether Adelaide returned to dance and what career path she followed. With a BS in Human and Organizational Development from Vanderbilt University, and the invaluable skills acquired through a career as a dancer, Adelaide worked in community relations. She directed the Family Resource Center at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University and, in 2016, she received the Credo Award. She has not closed the door to dance in her life. She briefly returned to teaching ballet in Nashville, yet the fullness of her life precluded investing very much time there. Watching her son perform in December 2022, she felt inspired; the seed idea of pursuing choreography was planted.

Arthur Mitchell, Dance Theatre of Harlem founder, believed everyone can be empowered through dance, performance, and arts education. In the Vienneau family, we see how dance spans a broad spectrum of possibilities. Adelaide achieved success as an accomplished, highly skilled ballerina performing internationally. Preston achieves personal success, creative self-expression, joy, and comfort through dance at Dance Express.

A table listing the companies mentioned in the article and their founders and founding dates.



Baldwin N. (2022). Martha Graham: a life when dance became modern.  Alfred A. Knopf

Dahlberg, T. (2020). Lionel Richie recalls closing 1989 Olympics. The Columbian, August 3, 2020.


Tyrus, J & Novosel  P. (2021). Dance theatre of Harlem: a history, a movement, a celebration.  Dafina Books.

A second-generation New Yorker of Irish-Polish descent, Mary Elizabeth Lenahan, MS, OT, is the artistic and executive director/founder of Dance Express in Fort Collins, Colorado. She brings enthusiasm, joy, understanding, and love of dance to Dance Express and creates a unique niche for persons with disabilities in the modern dance world. She earned a BA in German from the State University of New York at Albany and an MS in Occupational Therapy from Colorado State University. After four years of training with Sound Circle Eurythmy of Boulder, Colorado, she performed at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland. 

To learn more, visit www.danceexpressfc.com.