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Doing the dance of dedication

(L-R) BDC seniors Kim Lusk, Caitlin Jones, Emma White and Denver Bingham will showcase years of hard work in next week’s student performances at BPA.   - Courtesy of Bainbridge Dance Center
(L-R) BDC seniors Kim Lusk, Caitlin Jones, Emma White and Denver Bingham will showcase years of hard work in next week’s student performances at BPA.
— image credit: Courtesy of Bainbridge Dance Center

Bainbridge Dance Center students put in long hours to master the art of movement.

The Bainbridge Dance Center’s studio spaces are fronted by large picture windows.

Any given weekday afternoon finds some groups of students practicing as others mingle in the lobby, waiting for their turn to dance.

Very often, eager young ones stretch out in the hallways to observe.

“The little ones are lined up watching the big ones,” BDC director Susan Thompson said. “They sit there and think, ‘I want to do that someday.’”

Next week at Bainbridge Performing Arts, BDC will stage its year-end student performances, the culmination of an entire school year’s worth of work from the smallest pre-school star-gazers through the most seasoned seniors.

Thompson and the other BDC instructors have shepherded more than 200 dancers through the program this year, some of whom have been with BDC for their entire secondary school careers.

The first act of the performance will showcase beginner through advanced work in ballet, jazz, tap and modern dance.

The second act is devoted to a 40-minute performance of “The Swan Lake Suite” by the advanced ballet repertory class of recently graduated seniors.

The rigor of learning and performing 40 minutes of dance is hard to conceptualize on paper. Thompson puts it in perspective by pointing out that the youngest students spend their entire year working toward a two- to three-minute recital piece.

These little “kiddos,” as Thompson calls them, began the year by focusing on technique.

Ballet I students, for instance, spend 45 minutes once per week absorbing building-block principles such as body awareness, posture, movement and eye focus.

“And at the beginning, that’s a lot,” she said.

In January, when Thompson says energy and interest can naturally slump, instructors introduce the choreography for the spring dances, selecting dance pieces and music that complement the body of skills each class is acquiring and at the same time, help prepare them for the next level of instruction.

Thompson said that only through an enormous amount of work and dedication do advanced dancers reach the point where they can absorb patterning, synthesize techniques, learn phrases quickly and perform them instantly.

It takes a rigorous and carefully designed curriculum that by the end includes two-and-a-half hours of practice every weekday in technique, repertory, conditioning and choreography, along with a three-and-a-half hour repertory class on Saturday mornings.

But Thompson says only rarely do kids come through her doors who don’t want to be there or who don’t want to dance.

“I don’t see very many kids who drag in, look soggy, and drag out,” she said.

“They are incredibly dedicated kiddos who want to be here at 9 a.m. and work really hard. That’s how we get 40 minutes of a ballet suite that’s well put-together and well-oiled.”

All of the four advanced recent grads, Emma White, Denver Bingham, Caitlin Jones and Kim Lusk, have chosen colleges with strong dance or arts programs. Thompson herself says she grew up in a well-educated family that regarded the arts as an integral part of a rich intellectual life.

“Learning dance is of great value to a more general, and broader, education,” she said.

“You need math to count. The kinesthetic ability to do the movements. The ability to process verbal instruction and translate words into three-dimensional movement that conveys motivation and feeling and tells the audience a story.”

And part of what she wants BDC to impart to students is that dance and more broadly, the arts, are a critical part of our greater effort to be better human beings.

“I really think that’s our challenge, opening up your heart to the essential nature of who people are,” she said. “And the arts do that.”

Thompson said the end of the year is usually an emotional time for the dance graduates and their parents, mothers in particular.

They see so many years of accomplishment in dance called in to relief by the knowledge that their daughters are headed off to the rest of their lives. As a result, they both treasure and dread this time.

The same applies to Thompson in her role as teacher and guide. In acknowledgment of the bittersweet and inevitable nature of moving on, she choreographed a dance called “Passages” some years ago that ends the first act of the performance each year.

Through the dance, the seniors depict a coming-together, or gathering of the experiences they’ve acquired over the years – dance, friends, school. At the end, each one moves off separately into a corridor of light, “each traveling on to whatever next phase there is,” Thompson said.

After that everyone breaks for intermission before returning for “Swan Lake” in Act II. Thompson said they sometimes need to get a cookie and collect themselves.

“At the end,” she said, “I have to say I’ve done my job when everyone has tears in their eyes.”

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Wings spreading

The BDC’s 26th annual student performance runs at 7 p.m. June 26-30 at Bainbridge Performing Arts, with an additional 2 p.m. show on June 30. Students ages 4 to 18 will perform pre-technique, ballet, modern, jazz and tap, with a performance of “Swan Lake Suite” by the advanced ballet repertory. For tickets, call 842-8569 or visit www.bainbridgeperformingarts.org.

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