RDC at ARC January 25, 2015 ARC Dance Productions 9250 14th Ave. NW, Seattle See performances by veteran Relay members and guest artists as we raise funds for RDC's annual performance at Velocity Dance Center in April.
Bellingham's Harper&I Dance Center is more than a studio. It's also a community of artists, a place where new and advanced dancers are welcome, and one of the fastest-growing arts organizations in Whatcom County. The center is the brainchild of Stephanie Harper, a Western Washington University graduate who dared to tackle the art of business after becoming masterful at the art of dance. During her years at WWU, Harper studied alongside 2015 RDC performers Gabrielle Gainor, Diadra Smith and Kai Berkedal. Her advanced contemporary students will perform choreography by H&I staff member Hannah Thomas at RDC at ARC on January 25.
What makes Harper&I unique? Harper&I Dance Center is unique for a few different reasons. We present an integrated, developed curriculum that is appropriate for all ages and that also has the freedom to grow and develop as the individual instructors please. Our classes are challenging but not overly so--a great amount of feedback from parents this last season was just how unique and creative our choreography and classes were and how perfectly they fit each age group and level.
Harper&I also only opened its doors a little less than three years ago and about 80 percent of our dancers began dancing then as well, which you would never know just by watching them. We believe in community outreach, in setting new goals for ourselves and the for the arts, and in helping our students gain a positive education within our walls.
How would you characterize the dance community in Bellingham? There is a lot of room for growth and development in the dance community in Bellingham, just like anywhere else.
So, you're both a dance company and a school? Yes. We have a performing company within our school that just began this fall, and we are looking forward to watching it grow. There are definitely visions in my mind for that, but we'll see what form the company decides to take--these things have a mind of their own! I decided to start the performing company after being presented with dozens of performing opportunities over the past few years and not being able to accept too many. Now, we are able to bring new choreography to performances, give the students a chance to perform in local events and even compete with their pieces. We will not turn into a competition studio, but we believe exposing our students to that type of environment is important and working with choreographers from around the world is very important as well!
What are some exciting new developments with Harper&I? We grew so quickly within our first two years that we recently moved into a new large studio location in downtown Bellingham. We also will be performing at Mount Baker Theatre for the first time this spring. This year, we will be continuing to develop the performing company and working to further extend and nourish our existing curriculum. We grew so much recently that it's time to catch our breath and then ask ourselves "What's next?"
What's next for you as an artist? What about as a teacher and business owner? I definitely have personal goals for myself as an artist in the near and far future and a lot of that revolves around continuing my education (in whatever form that may present itself) as well as exploring the performing arts in new perspectives. I poured myself into getting H&I off the ground these past few years and am finally able to start doing things for myself as an artist and as a human being.
As a teacher and a business owner: my plan is to just be the best that I can be and to continue to learn and educate myself. One of the most important things to me is that I have quality, educated instructors and those are not easy to find! Everyone who teaches for me has either danced with me in the past or has been a student of mine in the past, so we all speak a similar "language" if you will. However, there's still a significant enough difference in teaching and artistry that students still get a different class whenever they take from someone new. I have high expectations for the type of curriculum we offer our students, as well as for the quality of instruction. But I also really believe in the individual learning process, so I give my teachers as much artistic freedom within their classroom as they'd like--and they really run with it, it's been a pretty beautiful thing to observe.
Every year, every month is a new learning process. Starting H&I was one of the craziest and hardest things I've ever done, but seeing what we have brought into the community and watching how our students have grown and how much they love to move, dance and explore has been worth it all.