Students from the local community will showcase their choreography in the 20th anniversary Sweet Briar College Community Youth Dance Recital at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 9, in Murchison Lane Auditorium at Babcock Fine Arts Center. Admission is free and open to the public.
Sweet Briar student dance teachers at Amherst Elementary in December 2014, clockwise from top left: Comora Littlejohn ’16, Chelsea Modeste ’15, Lily Hoblik ’15, Amherst Elementary P.E. teacher Erin Calhoun, Kayla Finn ’16, Samantha Cochran ’16, Ruth Packard ’17, Tiffanie Brown ’15, Katie Craig ’ 16 and Kyrstin Thornton ’16
Twenty-eight local dancers ages 4-18 will present a medley of dances with topics they have chosen, ranging from mermaids to mysterious masks. The youngsters choreograph under the guidance and direction of Sweet Briar College dance majors and minors. Youth dance teachers for 2014-15 are seniors Tiffanie Brown of Woodbridge, Va.; Sade Fountain of Danville, Va.; Lily Hoblik of Edgewood, Ky.; Katherine Hoyt of Houston, Texas; and Chelsea Modeste of Brooklyn, N.Y.; juniors Samantha Cochran and Comora Littlejohn, both of Virginia Beach, Va., and Katie Craig of Fredericksburg, Va.; and sophomore Ruth Packard of Spotsylvania, Va.
Founded in 1996 by dance professor Ella Magruder, the Sweet Briar community youth dance program began with a small class of faculty and staff children taught by Laura Lee Rihl Joiner ’96 , M.D., then a dual chemistry and dance major at Sweet Briar. Through the next 20 years, the after-school program grew to include families from the surrounding area, providing creative dance classes for nearly 600 local children.
Over time, Magruder expanded offerings to include contemporary dance and choreography, Irish and Scottish dance, and even circus arts, based on the talents of her undergraduate dancers.
In 1998, the Virginia Department of Education granted Sweet Briar permission to become one of the first colleges in the state to offer pre-K-12 teacher certification in dance. Sweet Briar dance students began to student-teach creative dance in public schools in Amherst, Campbell and Nelson counties and the city of Lynchburg.
“Many of my community youth dance teachers have become creative, innovative leaders,” Magruder says, noting she is proud of the many alumnae who student-taught in the dance program.
“Today, their occupations range from educators — including a school principal — to psychologists, arts therapists, dance studio owners, university dance professors, several lawyers, and a scientist on the deep-sea submarine, Alvin. One is a competitor for the World Cyr Wheel Championships this summer in Italy,” she says, explaining that wheel gymnastics are “Cirque du Soleil-type acrobatic work.”
Magruder believes that the freedom to experiment and to combine diverse interests is the great gift that arts education gives.
“The habit of creative thinking is a valuable, marketable commodity, important to our nation’s future growth and to solving problems. Our dance program’s goal has been to help all students find unique expression of their talents and aspirations. We do see that talent in our youngest students now, in the creative dances that they have invented for this recital.”
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