SUPPORT THE ARTS & ARTS EDUCATION
By Chris Van Vechten Pierce County Arts Commissioner
By Chris Van Vechten
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Like most arts commissioners, I joined my county commission 14 months ago – not because I wanted a fancy name tag (which I’m usually too shy to wear in public anyway) – but because I actually wanted to make some sort of difference in the cultural conditions of my greater community. I wanted to help shape policy that would promote both artistic and economic development; policy that would keep the arts accessible to students in our public schools. I was even hoping the commission could become involved in helping to start a local lit magazine – but instead, I wound up spending most of my time justifying the necessity of public funding for the arts.
When I first joined, our county commission’s budget sat at around $180,000 (already down from where it sat at the same time the previous year by around $40K). It was then cut to $135,000 in September of 2008, before being almost cut entirely in February of 2009. Thanks to an impromptu letter writing protest, some of the funds were “recovered” so that now we expect to press on with an estimated budget of $89,000 at our “disposal” (see list of department cuts here).
The good news is that it looks like we'll be able to honor, at least partially, the community grants we approved for 2009. The bad news is that local artists and arts organizations appear to be slowly losing yet another source to supplement their work.
Call me crazy, but I always believed that the purpose of public funding for the arts was to provide creative outlets and artistic exposure for those whom middle-class America had forgotten; specifically those suffering from social exclusion, physical disabilities or even those living under the most extreme forms of economic inequality. How then can we justify cutting funding for the arts at times like these without ultimately discounting the very principals upon which our commissions were founded?
Recently I had the opportunity to witness DTN perform at a Nursing Home in University Place. Of course I came to support the extremely dedicated students and instructors of this fine organization, but I ultimately spent more time watching the audience than the performers on stage.
My grandmother (Oma) is 92 years old and in the advanced stages of Alzheimer Disease. Both my parents lost their jobs last year in the economic downturn we're still reading about today. They can't afford to place Oma in the kind of facility which Alzheimer's patients require, so as a result she spends her days sitting in a chair watching television while my Mom struggles to find work that will simultaneously allow her to care for her mother.
Generally I visit my parents' home in Portland (where unemployment reached 11% last week) at least once a month, and I've noticed that Oma is most lucid when she's watching either tennis or some kind of music program (usually classical symphony or choir). She was once a tremendous athlete, running a mile every day and lifting weights until she was forced to quit at age 88. Now, televised tennis and music is all she has left. DTN's audience this past week was - generally speaking - in better shape than her, but the underlying message of their performance was no less poignant. For some people, THESE ART PROGRAMS LITERALLY MEAN THE WORLD.
So at the end of the day, I'm a member of a commission that spends 90% of its time beating the same drum into the ground. But if we have to keep beating it to keep these programs alive.
FINDING DTN by Krista Olson
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Before my husband accepted a job in the Northwest in fall, 2004, we checked out schools, neighborhoods and crime and tax rates. We looked at property, communities and prospects for our daughters' futures.
Our youngest daughter, then 11, was a member of a junior dance company in Southern California and was well into formal training for a career in ballet. The prominence of arts in this region gave us confidence that her work could continue after we moved.
My husband left to take the job. The girls and I stayed 10 more months in our hometown. They finished a school year. I completed my work contract and took care of real estate details. Of course, Haylee continued to dance.
We lived in the hometown of an amazing young dancer who came home - after nearly a decade on scholarship at the New York Joffrey, complimented by work at other elite companies - to establish a non-profit ballet company and school where she shared her art.
By the time our properties there sold, I had resigned and hired my replacement at work. My husband was living in our new home here. But I still had not found an appropriate school for Haylee.
Most ballet in this region is in the American style - a beautiful art that is, unfortunately, not what Haylee trained in. Still, having talked with other dancers and relatives here, we were sure we would find a classical instructor within driving distance of our new home.
We left California the morning after Haylee's final summer performance in July of 2005. We were certain she would be back onstage in no time.
It was 17 months before she danced in another theater.
By then, she had very nearly quit. We called and visited countless dance schools. We tried private lessons, hectic Friday-night commutes to faraway studios and she even attended classes at an excellent competitive dance academy that offered a few hours of ballet each week.
The day I realized her dreams were fading, I was watching through a studio window at one school she tried.
Amid teens clad in all manner of contorted pajama pants, tights and leotards in various states of slouch, Haylee looked starkly out of place, poised with her neatly pinned hair, traditional student attire and silent posture. A girl in jazz clothes and pigtails ran past me in the hall, munching nachos as she went.
By spring, Haylee lost momentum. She was in no shape to audition for the summer workshop in New York, where she and her junior company friends from California had planned to reunite. She wanted to quit.
Her teacher in California invited her to study there for the summer. With her friends in New York for the first few weeks, the studio seemed empty - a reminder of what Haylee was missing. She worked furiously, training five weeks with her instructor and one week directly with the artistic director of the New York Joffrey, who visited to present the final week of the intensive program.
When we returned here, Haylee was ready to try again, even if it meant changing from the classical style - something she did not want to do. I searched a wider area for a performing company and ballet school within a reasonable commute.
I had to find a place close to us where students learned the art of dance, not how to copy routines or dance moves. It had to be a traditional setting, with expert instructors nurturing talent by sharing students' love of dance, building on their art and working with them toward their goals. Ideally, it would be home to a ballet company, provide classical instruction and give students opportunities to perform in theatrical productions with professional dancers.
The day we walked through the door at Dance Theatre Northwest, I knew we had found it. What I recognized in the instructors and dancers was exactly what my daughter had been missing.
For a homesick dancer, of course, the first few classes were not perfect. She did not know anyone. It was not her comfortable old studio, where she was a company member. She was not in the front of the class, learning from her first teacher. It was not home. But it was undeniably an atmosphere where she would grow as an artist.
Within weeks, she and I both knew that she was in the hands of experts, people who would make her a stronger dancer - instructors who can help her become great if she works for it.
When I saw Haylee step onstage in the Nutcracker in December - her first theater performance since that summer night in her hometown - I could see in her face that she was back on her path.
I am sure she will always feel a bit homesick for her first studio and the friends she made there. Now, though, I can expect her nostalgia for those days will come not in moments she despairs the loss of a dream, but in moments spent living it.
NOW A GRACEFUL SWAN By Leslie Rios
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I took my first ballet class during the Spring of my 16th year. An older friend from church got inspired and decided to give free classes to all the pastors' daughters in the church gym on Sunday afternoons. I was elated and reveled in every plie and jete, fulfilling an early childhood dream by finally taking a ballet class. I was hooked and soon sought out teen/adult classes at one of the local dance studios.
My dance training slowly progressed, but without the ideal body type, youth, or financial resources there was not a lot for me to do at this pre-professional studio. I doggedly kept at it through high school graduation and beyond, working two jobs in order to pay tuition and to buy a car to transport myself back and forth to class. When I married my husband in 1998, I decided it was time to take a break from classes, very much having an all or nothing attitude about dance. I'd still linger over dance magazines and take in every dance performance I could.
Eventually married life settled into a happy routine. After about a 4 year break, the ballet bug came back with a bang. I discovered a studio within walking distance of our North End apartment, bought a new pair of ballet flats and started up taking class one night a week. I was working full time and attending Tacoma Community College in the evenings. Each new quarter, I always seemed to end up at the dance section of the college catalogue. I noticed a class titled "Modern Jazz Dance" taught by a Melanie Kirk-Stauffer. On a whim, I signed up. My heart pounded as I walked up the stairs to Dance Theatre Northwest for the first time. Would they frown at me, throw me out, tell me I was hopeless? Inside the studio, the spring sunshine poured in the through the windows and a positive vibe reverberated throughout the halls. Love of dance seemed to seep out of every nook and cranny. Class began and right away I was hooked by the teaching style. Steps were broken down logically, counts were given, and proper technique was taught kinesthetically - working with the body, not harmfully against it. Absent was the pressure to obtain an unhealthy weight through any means necessary, gone were the cutting remarks made to students. When the North End studio closed its doors for the summer, I began taking a taking an adult ballet class at DTN. One class soon became four and then nine. When I was asked to understudy a part during their first production of the Nutcracker, I felt like I had just been handed the keys to a castle.
In the five years since my first class at Dance Theatre Northwest, I've experienced much personal growth as well as continued growth in my dance training. In the Summer of 2005, my husband and I joyfully welcomed our firstborn son, Micah. As his little toddler body spins and taps to Mommy's rehearsal music, I overflow with maternal pride. I take pleasure in sharing my love of dance through regular and substitute teaching roles at Dance Theatre Northwest. Thursday nights find me waxing eloquent on the fine points of posture and on the beauty of a fully extended foot and leg to a wonderful group of teens and adults. With the support of my kind husband, I've continued to train and perform and am currently deep into rehearsals for my role as a swan in Dance Theatre Northwest's March 2007 production of Swan Lake. When I hear the music begin, my heart swells and a smile lights my face. Life has lots of phases, some good and some difficult. I expect that dance will be an ongoing theme in mine, not always the main melody, but always there and always joyfully vibrant.
NEW PERSPECTIVE ON DANCE ~ By Anne Carpenter
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A year and a half ago, I called Dance Theater Northwest, looking for an adult ballet class. It had been over ten years since I had taken ballet, and I had doubts about dancing as an adult. Just the thought of putting on tights and a leotard was a little intimidating. All sorts of questions ran through my mind. What would it be like to start over, knowing I would be nowhere near my previous level? What exactly was I supposed to wear? How much had changed in the ballet world? Would I run into my own band students? My hair was short- how was I going to get it into a bun? Would I have the energy after teaching all day? Would I hurt myself? Would I ever gain any flexibility again? At that time, I never would have believed that I would be dancing as a swan in Swan Lake.
As a child and teenager, I danced in the Seattle area for eight years. When I was eleven, my family attended PNB's Nutcracker and I remember simply thinking, "That's something I'd like to try." I started at the local parks department and local studios, but by high school I wanted a more rigorous program and joined the preparatory program at Cornish College. While I had many other interests, ballet was my passion. During school breaks, I took every open class or dance camp I could get into. I was often frustrated, however, by the limits of my body and by my inflexibility. In college, I included dance classes in my schedule but found few opportunities. Soon the demands of being a music education major grew, and I stopped dancing.
Even though I was no longer dancing, I was still always performing as musician. Now I am a band teacher and flute player. Music has many of the same traits that attracted me to ballet. In both art forms, I love the dichotomy of discipline and artistic expression, of tradition and creative renewal. I love the process of putting on a performance, going through painstaking attention to learning a new piece and having it transform from a rough outline to something beautiful. Whether it's a simple Mozart melody or Swan Lake, I love seeing a new generation of students rediscovering the artistic value of works that have stood for hundreds of years. But without ballet, I missed the joy of dancing and the satisfaction of physical exercise. Whenever I listened to music, I still saw choreography in my head.
I had been missing ballet, but it took some time to get the courage to try it again. It is probably fortunate that I happened to call on the same day as the beginning adult class. By the time I had to get there, I didn't have time to talk myself out of it! I will always remember how nice Miss Teresa was, helping me get what I needed for the first class. Miss Katie's adult beginning class was the perfect way to review the basics and gain some confidence and strength. When I started ballet as a child, most of the girls my age had more experience and I just tried to catch up. In Miss Katie's class, I found that I learned more about fundamental theory than I ever remember being taught. It didn't take long, and I can remember the exact moment, in the middle of the first tendu combination. I felt the thrill. I was hooked.
Due to scheduling, I soon had to move up to a more difficult class taught by Miss Melanie. Though I was definitely out of my comfort zone, Miss Melanie was patient, understanding, and helpful. I found myself simultaneously regaining old skills and gaining a new, better understanding of ballet technique. Soon I was taking two classes a week, then three, then more. When I went back on pointe, I felt just about as thrilled as I had as a child. I could hardly believe it when I was asked to perform in Swan Lake last year. By just a year later, I was signing up for unlimited classes.
When I took that first class at DTN, I never suspected I would be performing or taking advanced classes. I credit Miss Melanie and all of the staff at DTN with providing such fine training and offering those opportunities. Here I have learned not just what to do, but how to do it. Miss Melanie was the first teacher I have had who combines knowledge of traditional, classical ballet with modern understanding of kinesiology and injury prevention. As a child, I just struggled to imitate the lines and steps of ballet. Now I am learning how to use specific muscles to more efficiently and safely meet those same goals. As a result, I feel like I am working with my body instead of fighting against it. I am even able to achieve some flexibility and skills I could never reach when I was younger.
Miss Melanie has a great ability to accommodate different skill levels in the same class, so I always feel comfortable trying a new level. She knows when to allow students to go through the stage of "just figuring it out" and building strength, and when to offer corrections that can allow them to advance to a new level of skill. In fact, being a student of dance again has made me reflect on my own teaching. I can better appreciate how my own band students feel when they are moving through the learning process. Ballet has even reminded me of why I went into education. I love being a student as much as I love being a teacher.
I especially appreciate how Miss Melanie welcomes all ages and all body types. She welcomes and encourages all students, not just the ones with the strictly traditional ballet physique. In this regard, DTN stands above many other studios. I also have found DTN to be unique in the spread of ages represented. In any given class, you will find children, teenagers, and adults. I am amazed by the incredible strength and ability of the young dancers, and just enjoy being able to watch them in class and rehearsal. At the same time, I do not feel out of place because there are other adults in the classes as well. In fact, seeing the other adults dance so beautifully is the biggest inspiration because I think if they can do it, so can I.
As an adult, I have a new perspective on dancing. When I was young, I always worried about being good enough. I still push myself and strive to do my best, but now I can remove the pressure and just enjoy what I am able to do. I know my body and am more accepting of it. Because this my second time around, it has been a thrill to see how fast I can relearn skills. Many "first times" stand out in my mind since I have started dancing again: being able to do a set of pique turns across the floor, making it to the next level of class, managing a double pirouette, flying through a petite allegro combination, finally getting my leg on the high bar, or my favorite, anything with battu.
If I am worn out from a long day at work, I still want to go to ballet. After a class, I may feel physically tired but mentally energized. The classes move fast, and I don't even have a chance to worry about my responsibilities at my job or at home. I can be totally in the moment and experience the joy of dancing. For years, I watched ballets like Swan Lake and wished I could be part of it. Now, thanks to DTN, I do have that opportunity and can truly enjoy it.
ART INSPIRES ART IN THE 2008 SEASON OF DTN'S CELEBRATE SUMMER PERFORMANCE SERIES
By Krista Olson
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Internationally acclaimed guest artist Norbert Nirewicz will perform with Dance Theatre Northwest. The non-profit group’s series includes free performances and workshops at fairs, festivals, area residential facilities and the Museum of Glass . This year’s season will include new creations and an appearance by Nirewicz at the Museum of Glass performance in August.
Art can be inspired – and it can inspire. The drama and passion exuded by creations in the Museum of Glass have leapt from crystalline forms into the lithe and graceful bodies of dancers.
Internationally acclaimed guest artist Norbert Nirewicz will join Dance Theatre Northwest dancers in expressing that impact through several new dance pieces at the museum this summer. The museum event is one of several in the regional dance group’s Celebrate Summer series. “My choreography at Museum of Glass will focus on a personal interpretation of the glass installations and art pieces at the museum,” said DTN Artistic Director Melanie Kirk-Stauffer.
“Pieces that will be performed include ‘Bleeding Heart,’ ‘Shadows & Light,’ ‘Vases & Vessels’ and ‘Of Times Gone By,’ along with a new surprise piece that is being created with Norbert in mind,” she said.
Nirewicz, a native of Poland, is an award-winning performer who has danced with companies around Europe, South America and the United States . He has worked extensively as a freelance performer, teacher and choreographer and has presented master classes, company classes and intensive workshops around the United States .
He presented a master training workshop for DTN last year and participated in a public performance with the group last year, but a portion of that event was rained out. The Museum of Glass production will give people who missed out that day another chance to see the visiting master, Kirk-Stauffer said.DTN’s “Celebrate Summer” project presents a series of interactive workshops, free dance performances and educational lectures from April through August at area festivals, senior communities and assisted-living facilities. The museum performance in August will be a culmination of the series.
The project is intended to increase the visibility of the cultural arts in the community and reach out to residents, families and the economically and mobility challenged. The non-profit organization works year-round, relying on grants, donations and volunteers to present professional productions for local audiences at venues ranging from fully equipped theaters to made-to-fit stages in care home dining rooms.
The summer events include scenes from various productions performed by company members, students, guest performers and staff. All performances in the region’s care homes and senior communities are free and open to the public.
Incorporated in 1986, Dance Theatre Northwest includes an award-winning Regional Performing Dance Company, a Junior Dance Ensemble, guest performers, the Dance Theatre Northwest Music Ensemble, guest vocalists, and an extensive support network of professional artists and volunteers serving in various capacities.The group provides training in ballet, classical ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical dance, musical theater and dance fitness at the Dance Theatre Northwest studio in University Place and participates in several educational collaborations in the region. The group’s principal trainer is Kirk-Stauffer, who studied and performed at internationally acclaimed institutions prior to bringing her art home to the Tacoma area.
Along with formal winter and spring productions, DTN makes up to 18 trips to assisted-living and senior residential facilities each year with a complete cast of company and student dancers. Free and open to the public, these programs include a full complement of dancers, audio equipment and costumes. Kirk-Stauffer gives audiences educational narratives on the history of particular stories, choreography or music. The “Celebrate Summer” project, which is in its third season, is supported by contributions from the Pierce County Arts Commission and many small businesses in the area. The series will include lectures, demonstrations and performances on portable stages at various facilities and venues. DTN company members and guest dancers will perform parts of classics, scenes from Broadway favorites, excerpts from contemporary ballets, musical theater numbers and DTN Repertory works.
Some venues will include live music performances by the Dance Theatre Northwest Music Ensemble. Workshops will vary, covering a range of dance styles, such as tap, ballet movement, theatre dance, Disco, Latin and swing dances. At the festivals, the Dance Theatre Northwest Ballet Guild will staff an educational booth with arts educational materials for youngsters, including coloring pages for them to take home.
More information on how to support or participate in classes, performances or outreach programs provided by Dance Theatre Northwest, a registered 501c(3) non-profit, is available at (253) 778-6534 or online at www.dancetheatrenorthwest.org.
PERSPECTIVE…SO MUCH MORE By Wendy Walters
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DANCE THEATRE NORTHWEST is so much more than dance. DTN provides opportunities to learn skills that help its dancers grow into respectful, thoughtful, creative adults. DTN provides important community service. DTN provides once-in-a-lifetime exposure and experience with renowned dance companies and groups.
While studying dance is an important part of DANCE THEATRE NORTHWEST, learning to be disciplined, respectful and passionate is important too. Students are given responsibilities at DTN to help keep it in excellent condition. Students also learn to respect and encourage each other in their accomplishments.
Many dance studios have one recital each year and maybe one other performance. At Dance Theatre Northwest, students have many opportunities throughout the year to perform. They include the traditional Nutcracker, spring show, recital and University Place Festival.
Dancers are also involved in community service. Several times a year DTN’s junior and senior dance company performs at senior centers. This brings so much joy to those who can’t get out to experience a live performance, and it gives the dancers a chance to share their passion with others. It takes a lot of work and time to provide these performances, but it is Miss Melanie’s commitment to the community that makes it happen.
Last spring’s educational dance trip to New York was an experience of a lifetime. My daughter Elle and I had such a wonderful time. Elle was able to catch a glimpse of the life of a professional dancer, watch her first Broadway show, and experience New York for the first time. Those memories will last a lifetime and inspire her to work hard to reach her goals.
Thank you DANCE THEATRE NORTHWEST for being such a bright light to my daughter, numerous other students and the South Sound community. Respect, passion, discipline, commitment - DANCE THEATRE NORTHWEST.