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.
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 third season performance, RDC3, at Velocity Dance Center in April.
One of Relay's 2015 collaborators is using his background in hip-hop to create new alliances in Seattle's dance community. Originally a self-taught hip-hop dancer, UW senior Michael O’Neal Jr. has expanded his personal repertoire to include ballet and modern through his university experience. In RDC's spring show at Velocity, he'll be featured in a piece by contemporary choreographer Cheryl Delostrinos, but he's also performed more traditional modern dance with UW's professional troupe, Chamber Dance Company. On the other side of the spectrum, "Choreomike" as he's known on YouTube continues to bring his personal style of swagger to Tacoma dance crews: Chapter1NE, The Beat Hippies and NoDef. His recent work with acclaimed Seattle dance heavyweight Amy O' Neal (no relation), however, is a good example of where Mike might be headed. Mike performed in Amy's Opposing Forcesat On the Boards, described as "five B-boys from different generations and cultures coming together in curiosity, strength, vulnerability, and grace." Like Amy (who had more traditional origins as a dance graduate of Cornish College of the Arts) Mike also sees plenty of room for collaboration between urban and traditional movement genres. Plan on seeing more and more of this versatile artist around Seattle as he inspires others and collaborates with everyone from b-boys to bunheads.
You got your start in hip-hop. What's it been like studying more classical dance forms at the UW? Learning ballet and modern has been really helpful in my progression as a hip-hop dancer. It's added to my movement vocabulary; it's allowed me to learn more about my own body, and it's also helped me become more versatile. I'm more in love with dance itself. What was it like getting to perform with Chamber Dance Company? Getting to perform with Chamber Dance Company was definitely a big moment for me. Working alongside my peers and such experienced dancers taught me a lot. The experience definitely helped me grow as a person, performer and choreographer.
How did you link up with Amy O’Neal? What was the coolest part about dancing in “Opposing Forces”? I met Amy in high school through a "Dance This" intensive (a program offered by Seattle Theatre Group). We then got back in touch once I started going to the UW. She asked me to be in a piece for her for "Dance This" a couple years back.
The coolest part about being in "Opposing Forces" is getting to work with such well-known dancers and inspirations from the hip-hop world. Everyone has so much knowledge. I didn't know everyone going in to the process, but everyone was so welcoming to me and clicked right away. It will be fun to tour the piece with them.
Do you see more room in Seattle for modern/hip-hop dance collaboration? How might that happen? Who are the folks to do it? There is a crazy amount of room for modern and hip-hop collaboration in Seattle, especially for hip-hop choreographers. Hip-hop dance in general brings pieces from all other genres. I feel like both sides (hip-hop and modern dance) envy one another but don't say anything about it for whatever reason.
For a collaboration to happen, people just need to take a leap of faith and get out of their comfort zones. All Seattle dancers can help make this happen. In Opposing Forces, we had dancers with hip-hop roots who were learning from a modern dancer. We shouldn't be afraid to work with someone who has a different style. We should learn from each other and help each other grow. After all, we all share the same passion for dance.
When we can do that, there will be more art that transcends styles, studios, and dance politics. There will be something beautiful that more people can enjoy. Dance is about having fun, bringing people together, positivity and expression. So why not come together and share the love?
What are your goals as an artist? My goal as an artist is to inspire. I want to inspire anyone and everyone I can through my work, and by just being me. I don't really care how others judge me. I want to put my all in each piece and show that if you truly love something, you should go for it with all that you have.
Another goal is to be a bridge between hip-hop and other styles of dance such as ballet or modern. I want to bring people from every style together so that we can share with one another and grow as dancers and as people. We have enough problems from other people hating on our art. We should be able to stand together and make each other stronger and more united.
Tess' dancers in rehearsal for her rock climbing piece.
Anna Roth (right) and Tess (left) dancing in RDC's second season.
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 third season performance, RDC3, at Velocity Dance Center in April.
Tess Wendel is a mover and a shaker in general. Not only did co-found Relay Dance Collective, she's an avid climber and a rock star Volunteer and Member Support Coordinator making things happen at The Mountaineers. For Relay Dance Collective's January 25th show RDC at ARC, Tess combines her two loves, climbing and dance, into one performance. Her piece, "The Buddy System," uses both trained dancers and community members to tell a story of partnership and friendship in the outdoors.
What inspired your piece, "The Buddy System"? The work has been inspired by my job at The Mountaineers where I'm surrounded by a committed group of staff, volunteers and members who are dedicated to building community and creating lifelong friendships as well as pursuing an exhilarating experience outdoors. The partnering in this dance is inspired by the partners I've had while climbing. These are people who understand how awesome it is when you have someone you can always call on the phone and then head out into the wilderness with. You trust them, and the two of you just jive. These are the same people who push you to try new things, but understand your limits; they have patience. When something isn't working, they help figure out how to solve it.
Why do you love to climb? I love to climb for the same reason that I love to dance. When I am doing either I am not thinking about anything else except the movement and where I am at the exact moment. There are no bills to pay or emails to answer, you are just in it.
Who is in your piece? The dancers include two climber friends that I attempted Rainier with this past summer, Anna Roth who danced last season with RDC who is my comrade in arms because she is constantly having to balance her time between work, hiking and trail stewardship and dancing, Lillia Deering our youngest and most nimble dancer and my buddy Wes who is always up for trying something completely new.
Why did you want to work with both dancers and non-dancers? I wanted to work with non-dancers because I never had tried that before and wanted to see what that process would be like and because there is nothing I love more than combining two different things I like into one thing. I initially wanted dancers/climbers who were comfortable coiling rope but the reality about both dancing and climbing is you just need a group of people who are comfortable working and moving together.
Tess, you had BRAIN SURGERY to remove a tumor two years ago. How does that affect any physical activity you pursue today? The surgery definitely still affects me, and dance even more than climbing. Dancing involves spinning, off-kilter and upside down movement [editor's note: these are also Tess' favorite and signature moves]. I still have a hard time handling that type of movement, so I have found that I am becoming more of an active audience member for the arts rather than a performer. However, it's been liberating in a way. I am lucky enough to have found climbing after dance, another activity that also intrigues me. The last two years especially have led me to examine the way we choose to define ourselves. I have friends, both in the dancing and climbing worlds, who have had injuries that caused them to either drop the activity or completely reevaluate how they participate. Figuring out who you are after you're forced to leave a sport or art form can be really, really difficult.
However, I've discovered that we really don't need to be defined by one thing; it's never too late to try something new. if you feel inspired to dance or to sing after seeing a show, go do it. Not everyone can (or wants to) be a professional, but everyone can get involved and should get involved with something new if it tickles their fancy and allows them to create awesome experiences with new people. This is one of the reasons I like being part of Relay Dance Collective. Not only are we able to support some amazingly talented professional artists and choreographers making work in Seattle and beyond; we're able to offer a chance to perform or create art for those who might not have initially done that without this open and inclusive space.