HHS student performs with Dogwood studio

Georgia Geen

School, dance class, homework,
sleep, repeat. School, dance class at
Dogwood Dance Project, homework,
sleep, repeat. In addition to the traditional
life of a high school dancer,
Hanover freshman Libbie Ryan has
dedicated time to a rather unique
dance studio.
“[Dogwood] tries to spread the art
of dance throughout the Richmond
community, because the dance community
in Richmond is pretty small,”
Ryan said. Ryan first became involved
with the program this year, since
Ilana Burger (a teacher at her home
dance studio, School of Dance Arts)
also dedicates her time as a teacher at
Dogwood Dance Project found its
roots in the minds of four JMU alumni
of JMU’s dance program. Since it
originated, it has added a youth ensemble
to further the mission statement,
as well as other teachers.
“We started out by doing residencies
at local studios – guest choreography,
master classes, etc. – and
performances at school events in order
to reach that population,” one of
Dogwood’s co-founders, Ilana Burger,
said, “The idea for an actual youth
program came about a year after the
founding of the company because we
saw a real lack of pre-professional
performance opportunities outside of
the studio setting.”
Since the founding members had
teaching experience prior to Dogwood,
the idea to add a youth ensemble
was a welcome addition to the
program. As lifelong dancers themselves,
dance education is an important
part of the organization to the
founders. Unlike most dance studios,
which become the entirety of their
advanced students’ social lives, practice
for the youth ensemble only occurs
several times a month.
“It fits with everyone’s schedule,
because everyone
obviously has other dance jobs, but
they can still be part of a company
that’s just about dance,” Ryan said.
Dogwood Dance Project is not
nearly as focused on profit as other
dance studios, since their entire goal
is the betterment of the arts in Richmond.
Programs like Dogwood allow
for dance students to find opportunities
in the area and have high value,
due to the lack of opportunities that
are available to dancers living in cities
with low populations.
“They’ve definitely helped me
even now, when we talk to college
professors, because it’s something to
talk about, how we know the people
who run it and it starts a conversation
to let the professors know that you’re
serious about it,” Ryan said.
Aside from performing in Richmond,
Harrisonburg and Northern
Virginia, Dogwood has an annual
dance concert, which took place on
January 10 and featured the talents
of both the apprentices and the youth
ensemble. Two performances took
place, with showcases at both 2 and
7 p.m.
Instead of classical ballet, Dogwood
Dance Project focuses exclusively on
modern dance, which, ironically
enough, originated
in the late 1800’s. Modern
dance is known for being less restricted
than other forms. In addition,
unlike a traditional dance studio, at
Dogwood the mechanics of dancing
are not focused on in rehearsal. That’s
left for the dancers’ home studios.
“Dogwood is an opportunity for
students to refine their artistic side
and get experience as a repertory
dancer,” Burger said. At some companies,
teachers are more concerned
with technique than the artistic side
of dancing; Dogwood provides this
artistic coaching to improve the skills
that dancers can set dancers apart
when they set out to dance professionally.
Within recent years, Dogwood has
received more attention, due to their
article in GRID Magazine and the feature
in Richmond Arts Review. The
2013-14 season was one of unexpected
growth for the organization, while
this year the attention wasn’t quite as
“There’s been a lot going on in our
lives this year outside of Dogwood, so
we set smaller goals this season. But
we’re looking forward to our 5th anniversary
next year and we want to
challenge ourselves to really honor
than milestone
with a spectacular
2015-16 season,”
Burger said.


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