Armour Dance Theatre, Oldest Dance Conservatory in Miami, Values Creating Successful Individuals Over Professional Dancers
May 24, 2024

When Camila Gil immigrated to Miami from Colombia with her family at age 13, she didn’t know if her dance training would continue. With little money, her parents couldn’t afford the tuition of most classical ballet schools, so when Armour Dance Theatre offered her a scholarship, they gave Gil a chance to not only continue dancing but to have a lifelong career in dance. After 19 years with the studio, Gil is now the executive director of ADT, the oldest dance conservatory in Miami. 

Founded by Thomas Armour (1908–-2006), ADT’s mission is to help students become successful human beings, not just professional dancers. According to artistic director Ruth Wiesen, being a dancer is one of a myriad of options that ADT’s students have in life. “We create dancers that also happen to be neurosurgeons, teachers, and entrepreneurs,” she says. In fact, many ADT alumni work as lawyers, physical therapists, and writers. Former ADT dance students also include 2023 Dance Magazine cover artist Lloyd Knight from the Martha Graham Dance Company, Jacoby Pruitt from the Bill T. Jones Arnie Zane Company, and Ebony Haswell Frazier of Dance Theatre of Harlem, Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, and Complexions Contemporary Ballet.   

Ruth Wiesen (left) and Camila Gil (right). Photo courtesy ADT.

For the past 75 years, ADT has been making dance accessible to children in Miami by hosting free afterschool arts programs where they are offered quality dance education, academic assistance, and social and emotional resources. Between its flagship site, five community programs, and summer classes, ADT hosts over a thousand students each year. “Our vision has always been to empower students with skills that will propel them through life, enabling them to achieve anything they set their minds to,” said Wiesen and Gil at ADT’s 75th-anniversary celebration. 

Here, Wiesen and Gil chat with Dance Teacher about their history with ADT and where they see the studio heading in the future.

How did you begin working at Armour Dance Theatre?

Ruth Wiesen: I actually was an intensive care nurse, but had danced most of my life. When I came to Miami, I found Thomas Armour and the school, and he actually asked me to teach some classes. That was back in the early ’80s. I started teaching more and more classes, and my role in school grew as the school grew. I’ve been here for almost 35 years. It’s a long time, but it went really fast. 

Camila Gil: I began volunteering in the office after school in high school. One thing led to another, and I started working for Ruth. I [attended the] University of Miami for undergrad and Florida International University for my master’s, all while working for Ruth in the administration department. Two years ago, I had the honor of stepping into the executive role.

Tell us about the school’s history in Miami.

Wiesen: Back in the ’40s, Miami was a very small town and there wasn’t much happening in terms of arts and culture. Thomas Armour—because he came from the Ballet Russe and had connections all over the world—started his school and created a group of well-trained classical dancers, put out classical productions, and brought in guest artists. He brought ballet to Miami. Many wealthy people got behind him, so he had a ballet guild that raised enough money for him to create five sets of costumes and sets for Giselle, Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Prince Igor, and Peter and the Wolf. If we were to re-create those costumes and sets today, it [would cost] millions and millions of dollars. [The guild] continued to produce classical works every year, and then, in 1985, Miami City Ballet came to town. Mr. Armour said, “That’s not going to be who we are anymore. We have a professional company now and we’re going to focus more on education. We’re not going to try and compete with them.” He was a real ally to Miami City Ballet, and we were there when they first started their school, and we helped them with their first Nutcracker. They became partners instead of [competitors]. 

Students at ADT's community program. Photo courtesy ADT.

What’s your vision for the future of Armour Dance Theatre? Where do you see the studio heading?  

Wiesen: My dream is that we have a building that we own in the north of the county and one in the south—we’re kind of in the middle where we are now—and that we take the model that we have learned and apply it to all of the arts. So we have a conservatory of arts learning that children can go to, and we make it accessible to everybody, not just in dance, but children in music, visual arts, chorus, theater. That from an early age they have access to the very, very best. 

Gil: I’m the executor of the dreams. I make it happen.

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