By Pam Wynne
From April 27 to 29, the West Virginia Division of Culture and History presented the West Virginia Dance Festival at the Cultural Center in Charleston. Even though this year was its 20th anniversary, it was the first year that public school dance instructors were invited. So I experienced an event that I never knew existed.
Dance classes are now required in our secondary schools, so we wrote and received a grant from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts to bring ten public school dance instructors to observe master classes and participate in various workshops. We were also involved in a panel discussion to generate ideas for further developing secondary programs.
When I arrived, I received a schedule of dance classes and other events. I immediately began touring the various classes, including jazz, ballet and modern dance. To my amazement and delight, famous artists such as Duncan Noble, David Howard, Ronnie De Marco, Kate Trammell, Suzy Gunter and Shane O'Hara were teaching them. These dancers have performed, choreographed and/or taught around the world.
The students I observed were selected by audition from dance studios all over West Virginia. Watching, my eyes were opened to the wealth of amazing talent in this state.
Individual dance companies presented performances on Friday and Saturday evenings. These students had been adjudicated the day of their presentation. Guest artists also performed.
Public school dance instructors met for a symposium session on Saturday. Commissioner Nancy Herholdt welcomed us, and Pat Edwards explained the history of dance education in the public schools. Julia Lee discussed the West Virginia instructional goals and objectives, and Arts and Education coordinator Martha Collins gave us grant information. Lakin Cook, education manager for the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences, was the moderator for a panel discussion between participants Carli Mareneck, Rose McDonough and Toneta Akers-Toler.
I left with a greater understanding of what dance education is and how important it is to our students. I also came away with a great appreciation for our state coordinators and their efforts to make dance accessible to all West Virginia students.
I feel privileged to have been part of this first public school dance teachers' symposium, and look forward to its continued growth and success.