Evansville Dance Theatre closed its doors in March 2011 after 30 years serving Evansville’s art community. Despite the loss of this institution, Evansville has no lack of opportunity for young dancers. Here’s a closer look at five local studios offering training for a variety of students. Whether a youth’s interest is recreational, fitness-oriented, arts-inspired, or professional, the city is well equipped to serve a host of eager feet.
Standing on the Great Wall of China, a young Mark Bush had realized his dream. He was 22 years old, traveling the world far from his Evansville home as he danced for the royal family in England as well as for kings in Japan and Thailand. Standing on that wall, Bush vowed to become a professional dancer.
A dancer he became.
After training at Sylvia’s School of Dance in Evansville, Bush received a full scholarship to the National Academy of the Arts in Champaign, Ill., and continued his education at the Southwest Ballet Center in Arlington, Texas, and in New York City at the Joffrey Ballet School and the American Ballet Theatre School. He was then offered a contract with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, an opportunity that took him around the globe for four years.
Bush returned to his hometown in 2008 and started Evansville Ballet in 2009, a dance studio focused on classical ballet as well as modern dance. According to Bush, it’s the only school in the area with live accompaniment for dancers. “(That) makes the experience richer on so many levels,” he says. It also prepares his students for the performance of The Nutcracker, which debuts on Dec. 17, at the Victory Theatre, where they will not only perform to live music by the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra, but with special guest stars such as local baseball legend Don Mattingly as Mother Ginger.
Bush says all students, regardless of their interest in a dance career, benefit from the education received at his studio. “You will be an art supporter, understanding how that experience changes a community and makes it better,” he says. “Evansville is starting to grow again and I am happy that Evansville Ballet will grow with it. It’s my ‘Field of Dreams’—‘build it, and they will come,’ and that’s what’s happening.” For more information on Evansville Ballet, visit www.evansvilleballet.org.
Ballet Indiana, a division of ACROS Gymnastics and Dance, teaches “ballet, period,” says founder Keith Martin, recipient of the 2007 Outstanding Arts Educator Indiana Community Arts Leadership Award by the Indiana Coalition of the Arts. Martin’s dance journey has been a lengthy one, taking him from Yorkshire, England to London, where he spent several years with the Royal Ballet, to many positions all across the United States, including principal dancer at the famed San Francisco Ballet.
Martin and his wife Bj owned Ballet California and its associated school from 1992 to 2004, when Martin found an opening at Evansville Dance Theatre. “We thought this would be a good move for us,” he says, so they sold their business in California and spent four years with Evansville Dance Theatre before founding Ballet Indiana last year.
Martin says the school’s strength lies in its “sound technique” and “advanced curriculum.” Ballet Indiana combines the styles of the English Royal Ballet, Italian (Cecchetti), and Russian (Vaganova.) “All the children who come through us have been trained by my wife Bj and myself,” he says. “Our number one emphasis is on the teaching of the children. Performance is the reward for working hard.” Martin believes dance education gives the students a better perspective on working hard, as the majority earn straight A’s at school. “They can focus, they can concentrate,” he says. “It’s wonderful to see what the youth of today can do. It doesn’t get the publicity it should.”
Martin is happy to run one of the many organizations in Evansville’s family-oriented community that supports area youth. Ballet Indiana has received a grant from Toyota benefitting the Title One schools of Evansville, who will be invited to see a free performance of The Nutcracker at North High School on Dec. 2. The show opens to the public Dec. 3 and 4. For more information about Ballet Indiana, visit them on Facebook or at www.acrosgym.com.
Children’s Center for Dance Education
Deena Laska-Lewis, a native of Champaign, Ill., became a dancer, she says, because she knew she “could never be a Chicago Bear, and ballet is as close as you get to that when you are 5’1” and female.” After training at a variety of schools including the Joffrey Ballet School, the Julliard School, and IU School of Music, Laska-Lewis directed the Tennessee Ballet in Memphis before coming to Evansville to lead the Evansville Dance Theatre in 1992. “I arranged for the Evansville Philharmonic to work with Evansville Dance Theatre for The Nutcracker (opening this year on Dec. 2 in Rockport, Ind.), then danced the Sugar Plum for several seasons.”
Laska-Lewis later left that organization to create Children’s Dance Theater, (now Children’s Center for Dance Education). “The mission of this 16-year-old organization, which has won numerous state and local awards for its commitment to diversity, accessibility, and standards of excellence — is youth outreach programming,” Laska-Lewis says. “Every child should be able to dance.” She has taught in a variety of outreach programs throughout Evansville including Patchwork Central, Children’s Museum of Evansville, and local schools such as Joshua Academy and Lincoln Elementary. Laska-Lewis is currently the adjunct professor of the University of Southern Indiana’s Movement /Dance in the theater department.
CCDE teaches tumbling with a Russian gymnast, Bob Fosse-style jazz, tap, as well as musicality kinetics, vocabulary, dance technique, and dance history. “Our motto is ‘Every child should dance.’ We emphasize you must be a lovely person to be a lovely dancer,” says Laska-Lewis. “We put a great deal of thought on body image and healthy eating which is the main focal point to our Pirouette Project.” The project is an outreach program for at-risk youth that focuses on self-esteem, nutrition, and academic progress as a result of creative expression. “Girls are competitive enough just being in third grade with other girls,” she says. At CCDE, “you need only be better than yourself in your last class.” For more information on Children’s Center for Dance Education, visit www.childdance.org.
Achieve Academy of Dance
Achieve Academy of Dance owes its existence to a case of knock-knees. Lory White was five years old when her condition was diagnosed. Ice skating was prescribed, but when lessons no longer were offered she turned to dance. White realized dance was her passion when, in eighth grade, she begged her mother to let her quit. “She let me,” White says. “And that’s when I realized how much I loved it.” In 1987, White opened Lory’s School of Dance after years of teaching out of her basement. Fifteen years later, she moved to Evansville and joined forces with one of her original 54 students, Erica Gee. Gee had returned to Evansville after working as a dancer and singer in theme parks such as Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va. Together, the two formed Achieve Academy of Dance. “Many of our instructors are kids we trained,” White says. “It works perfectly because we know they are teaching the way we want it to be taught.”
According to White, Achieve’s recitals frequently are compared to Broadway shows, something she never tires of hearing. She attributes part of this to the fact that dance involves kids in something positive. “It teaches respect, manners, confidence, and how to conduct yourself in front of others with poise and grace,” she says. Currently, Achieve employs 17 instructors at two locations and has enrollment of 300-400 students, offering classes in tap, ballet, hip hop, jazz, musical theater, tumbling, and lyrical and contemporary dance. For more information on Achieve Academy of Dance, visit www.achieveacademy.com.
D’Alto Studio Of Performing Arts
The name D’Alto Studio of Performing Arts is the first indication that this studio teaches much more than dance. The brainchild of Michael and Jennifer Dalto, a husband and wife team who performed in Southern California and Las Vegas in the ’80s and ’90s before settling in Evansville, D’Alto Studio teaches dance, voice, acting, piano, guitar, and improvisation.
The studio was formed not just as a place to study the arts but also as a “social outlet for the students who come from different towns and different schools,” says Jennifer. “Maybe their school friends do not enjoy the arts. Maybe they are athletes or academics. The studio becomes that warm home-away-from-home where friends are waiting to share the joy that the student finds in creating and living their art form.”
Molly Adams, director of THRIVE, D’Alto’s competitive dance company, agrees. “Every kid should find an activity that they excel in,” she says. “Whether it be sports, music, dance, or scouts, every kid loves being a part of a group.”
Jennifer sees performance as providing not only a sense of community, but a remedy for modern ills. “To be part of (the arts) is a very special calling, but even to possess the skill of playing a piano or doing a tap dance produces a very therapeutic result for the person just home from work at the factory, firm, or store,” she says. “From white collar to blue collar, music and the arts help us deal with the everyday stresses in our lives.” For more information on the programs and performances, visit www.daltoarts.com.