For four dance studios in Evergreen and Conifer, there's been a bright side to the pandemic.
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The owners at the studios — Peak Academy of Dance, Kinetic Arts, Evergreen School of Ballet and Evergreen Dance Studio — lost students during the pandemic, so they decided collaboration might be an innovative option to improve attendance and give dance students a new experience.
A summer class went so well that they decided to collaborate on the holiday favorite, Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” which will be performed in December. While performances are sold out, the owners are working on a virtual option – and next year they will look for a bigger venue.
The collaboration rather than competition among the dance studios — known as the Mountain Area Dance Collective — is working so well that Danielle Heller, owner of Peak Academy of Dance, wants to present the idea at the National Dance Education Association convention in a couple years.
“This shows us we can do things differently,” she said. “My hope is this Mountain Area Dance Collective becomes a flagship organization for a new way of looking at how to collaborate.”
Heller explained that by pooling their resources, the four studios can do something no single studio could do by itself.
“We are developing a more cohesive community that was not built on competition but built on support,” she said. “It’s been an amazing process. Everybody is bringing a different gift to the table.”
She said the studio owners chose “The Nutcracker” — with a cast of 80 — to provide a high level of artistry to the community, so families don’t have to go down the hill to see a high-quality show.
The owners say that “The Nutcracker” has allowed them to collaborate on choreography and staging the show. Plus each has been able to bring her strengths to the process, making the show even better.
The dance teachers met over coffee, for example, where they came up with ideas for the show’s party scene — “turning hours of notes turning into movement,” as Shelby McKee, owner of the Evergreen Dance Center, explained.
The owners agreed that the collaboration allows dance students the opportunity to learn from more than one instructor, improving their technique and performances.
“We have a great staff of dance instructors that our students can bounce back and forth,” McKee explained.
Betsy Hoffman, owner of Kinetic Arts, called the studio collaboration a way for individual studios to offer more to their students.
“What we are offering is more robust than we could do individually,” she added. “We can expose our students to different styles of teaching and choreography. We are showing our students it’s not a competitive thing.”
The studio owners, including Gabriella Marshall, owner of Evergreen School of Ballet, say they have a lot of respect for each other, and they work well together.
A learning experience
Students performing in “The Nutcracker” are happy with the studios’ collaboration, saying it has been fun to meet other dancers in the foothills, see other studios and learn from different instructors.
“It’s going great,” said Julia Wendel, a Peak Academy dancer playing Clara. “It’s been amazing to work with different dance instructors and see their styles of teaching.”
Jade Vin Lennep, a Peak Academy dancer playing the Sugar Plum Fairy, said she’s enjoyed watching the choreography develop as the dance teachers collaborate, while Eddie Ells, a Peak Academy dancer portraying the Nutcracker, noted that the different perspectives bring more to the show.
Milena Dambrosky, a Kinetic Arts dancer, said it’s been fun to meet dancers from other studios and other parts of the foothills, noting that they’re bonding during practices.
For Dava Krane, an Evergreen Dance Studio dancer, it’s about creating friendships and better performances by collaborating.
Aurora Farrant, who dances for both Kinetic Arts and the Evergreen School of Ballet, noted that she has enjoyed seeing other dancers grow through the process.
For the collaborating studio owners, it’s about trying something new that helps both their businesses and their dancers.
“When you start something new, you don’t know how the clientele will respond,” Heller said. “The directors and studio owners were willing to take the risk, and the result is more than we could have asked for.”
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