Encore back from Branson, St. LouisPublished 9:05am Friday, August 14, 2009
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
Encore this summer got shown a lot of the Show-Me State, Missouri, during a dance trip to Branson and to St. Louis.
Artistic Director Amy Rose, Rehearsal Director Sarah Smallbone and two chaperones accompanied the senior dance company, which in St. Louis attended former Dogwood Fine Arts Festival performer Robert L. Reed’s St. Louis Tap Festival and in Branson took a class with “Country Tonite’s” lead singer/dancer Kenya Wilhite and toured backstage.
They also sat in on a question-and-answer session where they learned the ins and outs of the business.
Later, the dance company served as the opening act for the show with their own 10-minute performance on the Oakridge Boys Theater stage in front of a live Branson audience.
Dancers took contemporary jazz class at Midwest Dance Revolution’s Branson studio.
They also went through a mock audition, where they had to present their bios, headshots, sing and dance.
“Encore dancers are official ready for the professional world,” Rose said.
Alumna Kristen Cleveland-Chandler lives and works in Branson and was able to help the visitors with arrangements and connections.
“Encore is like a sorority,” according to Rose. “We’re always there for each other.”
In St. Louis Encore took a variety of classes, including Irish step, a Rockette class, flamenco and, of course, tap technique.
They watched a participants showcase of tomorrow’s up-and-coming tappers.
They watched “All That Tap” at the University of Missouri, where the greats performed.
Performers such as Ardie Bryant and Miriam Nelson were honored.
The St. Louis mayor proclaimed Aug. 2 “Bryant-Nelson Day.”
Both honorees were in attendance – Nelson, 90; and Bryant, 80.
Rose said not only did audiences enjoy vintage footage of their performances, but Bryant “wowed the audience with his live performance.”
Bryant’s mentor was Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
When Bryant was 19, Bojangles came to see his performance.
Bryant invented bebop tap. Bojangles, 70 at the time, wanted to see what all the hype was about.
Bojangles told him he had educated feet and ankles.
He was to lead a healthy life because Robinson counted on him to preserve and pass on the only truly American art form.
To this day, Bryant teaches so this art form can live on.
Students at the festival learned steps and combinations that tap forefathers put together.
“It was fascinating to see history physically get handed down to the next generation,” said Miss Amy, who counts among her favorite moments “watching the dancers audition and being so proud of their hidden singing talents and watching them smile as they went through all the different classes in St. Louis. They were learning and loving it! I could go on for days about this trip. It was great!”
She said many of the teachers also teach at the two biggest studios in the nation in New York City.
“I was glad to expose our dancers to these greats in an intimate, yet affordable, location,” Rose said.
“Encore depends on the generosity of the communities. I feel glad that we were able to put together this tour where the dancers were exposed to so much and we were able to spend our dimes wisely.”