Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Huntsville's Best Dance Studios

Way back in the dark ages, I was a dancer. I danced through college and until I was 32, I was a dance teacher as a second job at many different dance organizations from Montgomery to Huntsville. In 1992, I hung up my tap shoes for good.

Today, I leave the actual dance instruction in the capable hands of Hayley Henderson, Artistic Director of The Johnny Stallings Arts Program (a title she will hold forever), and Melissa Reynolds, Merrimack Hall's Programs and Operations Director.
Melissa Reynolds, Katie and Hayley Henderson backstage with Nigel Lythgoe
Through our Annual Evening of Dance and our various master classes with visiting guest artists, I have the privilege of working with most of the dance educators and choreographers in our area and relish the time I get to spend with young dancers from organizations across north Alabama who volunteer with our program. So, even though I'm not actively teaching anymore, I have a sort of "birds eye view" on our dance community. Because of this, I'm often asked by parents where to send their kids for dance education.

Hayley started working at Merrimack Hall in 2008 and worked hand-in-hand with me on every phase of the development of The Johnny Stallings Arts Program. In 2012, she realized her personal dream of opening her own dance studio - Element Huntsville. She continues to be involved with Project UP as a faculty member - we will never let go of her and she couldn't bear to leave the program or the kids. After only one year of business, she has racked up quite an impressive list of awards at competitions (including having the National Teen Solo Champion, Haleigh Briggs!) and has an outstanding faculty and class line up. 

While Hayley will always be number one in my heart, I have a deep and abiding respect and admiration for every dance organization in Huntsville that is involved with us. When you look at the roster of our volunteers, you will see they come to us from every group you can think of...Huntsville Ballet Company, Alabama Youth Ballet, Allegro Dance Academy, Grissom High School Dance Department, Lee High School Dance Department, Ann's Studio of Dance, Southern Elegance, NEEMA, Southern Sass, Valley Dance Theatre, Southern Sensations, Steps of Faith, Dance Theatre of Huntsville and West Main Studios. All of these organizations have participated in our Evening of Dance, a major fund raiser for our program, and have encouraged their students to attend the master classes and workshops we offer periodically. All of these organizations provide excellent dance education from caring faculty! The owners or directors of these groups always put the best interests of their students first, offer high quality instruction and are devoted art educators in every sense of the word.

There are a few dance studios who, along with Element Huntsville, have supported us above and beyond - organizations that share our belief that dance should be open and available to everyone...Heidi Knight School of Dance, Soles, North Alabama Dance Center and The Dance Company (which actually has several students with special needs enrolled in their mainstream dance classes!)

Heidi Knight School of Dance
Heidi, Anna and Kelly at Soles, Barbara Ellen and Mary Katherine at North Alabama, and Beth and Julie at The Dance Company are in the ranks with Hayley in my book, which is saying a lot since Hayley is like a second daughter to me. Element Huntsville, Heidi Knight School of Dance, Soles, North Alabama Dance Center and The Dance Company have hosted fund raisers for us, donated their personal money to us, invited us to perform in their annual recitals, dedicated their recitals to our students and more, teaching the young people they are working with to give back, to share their talents and to care about those kids in our community who are routinely marginalized.
Element Huntsville

Our theatre is about collaboration, support and community among dancers. We want to work with organizations that share our passion for offering access to dance, not with people who only want to promote themselves. I've tried to create a community of support for dancers, choreographers and dance educators through our organization and
North Alabama Dance Center
do not welcome anyone who doesn't share this attitude.

Some of the dance organizations that support Merrimack Hall and The Johnny Stallings Arts Program are involved in competitive dance. They may go head-to-head with each other when they are at competitions, but when they are here, they are part of a network of dancers who are serving the greater good, increasing awareness in and interest in the art of dance and serving people with special needs. The dance community comes together as one at Merrimack Hall and I think everyone involved benefits. It is an honor to host master classes and workshops for dancers, it is a privilege to see kids and adults from across the region join together in their love of dance and to witness their dedication to the art form. For their unified support of Merrimack Hall, I will be forever indebted and grateful.

I believe that the arts should be open to everyone. I have focused Merrimack Hall's efforts on providing access to the arts to people with special needs. I am convinced that the young performers who volunteer with our program are benefitting as much, if not more, than the students they support. Working with kids who have special needs and facilitating their participation in the arts, especially dance, is teaching "typical" kids the important lessons of acceptance and working with our kids, the teens who volunteer with us learn there is no such things as "different" or "normal."

The Dance Company
When you are searching for a dance studio for your child, you will consider many factors - location, class schedule, faculty, tuition, genre they specialize in and others. But I suggest you should add one more factor to your list - look for a studio that is involved with Merrimack Hall and The Johnny Stallings Arts Programs. Those are the studios that are molding young leaders, encouraging community involvement and teaching students that dance is about much more than winning awards at dance competitions. The studios that support Merrimack Hall are offering professional, artful dance instruction and are molding beautiful dancers...and emerging community leaders and philanthropists. 


Anonymous said...

How do you get involved in helping?

Dexter jazz said...

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