Vail Valley Academy of Dance: 25 years of tutus and talent
“When I first started VVAD, I wanted to train dancers, it seemed so simple. Then, even after I had danced all of my life, had excellent teachers and training, as well as danced in ballet and modern companies, I found out quickly how much I didn’t know. Thus began a lifelong study of ballet technique, teaching, choreography, the body and child development. It has been and continues to be my hope that all children, whether interested in a professional career or not, can find the joy and benefits that dance offers. Over the span of 25 years, it has been especially rewarding to see some continue into professional dance careers and others succeed in other areas. Always, it has been an honor to be a part of so many young lives.”
— Anne Powell
EAGLE COUNTY — This is the story of one success leading to another. Of a woman who was wise enough and savvy enough to see a need and fill it capably. The “need” mostly made possible by her own hard work and success in the first place.
In the spring of 1989, the director of the dance program at Colorado Mountain College approached ballet teacher Anne Powell with an interesting “problem.” There just wasn’t enough studio time available at the college to continue the children’s classes she managed. The numbers in those dance levels had grown from fewer than 80 to more than 160 in the five years since Powell took over after moving to the Vail Valley in 1984.
As a result, in September of 1989, Powell opened Vail Valley Academy of Dance above and behind the old post office in Edwards. Two of her fellow teachers at CMC, ballet teacher Joanne Morgan and jazz instructor Robin Pieters, were the first faculty. A “babies” program was added at the start of the second year and JoAnn Moore came on board. Also joining the staff was Sybill Navas who, along with Powell, taught the more advanced ballet levels.
By 1997, the school had outgrown the two studios in the original building so Powell bought three spaces in the new Edwards Commercial Park. The new school has three studios as well as a dressing room and comfortable waiting room and office. ww
The addition of former world ballroom champion and Broadway dancer Colin Meiring to the staff increased the visibility of the jazz and hip-hop programs. JoAnn Moore added professional-level tap to the school and Maria Barry trains younger tappers and jazz dancers in addition to “babies” levels. Beth Swearingen, who also danced on Broadway, currently teaches jazz, and Kristin Comerford and Sophie Watras round out the faculty as it stands today.
Over the past 25 years, a focus on the Vaganova (Russian) syllabus has honed the ballet training to a superior level. Vail Valley Academy of Dance has been turning out dancers who successfully audition for prestigious summer intensives offered by companies and schools around the world. Some of these dancers have performed in China and Scotland during their summer programs.
With the creation of Vail Youth Ballet Company in 1996, students began to continue their training through high school and many entered college and professional programs. Vail Youth Ballet Company is managed by nonprofit Friends of the Dance. Advanced students audition in the spring for full company and apprentice positions. Powell is the artistic director of the company and the biennial “Nutcracker” and winter shows. It is no small commitment to be in the company for the dancers or their families. These dancers are at the studio in classes or rehearsal for 20 to 30 hours a week.
The dedication pays off. Alison Casperson was in the training program of Ballet Austin for two years and now is training with Atlanta Ballet. Molly Allard just finished dancing around the world in 190 days with Princess Cruises. Jenna Harrison will be starting her second year with the Portland Festival Ballet in Oregon.
“I am so grateful for the wonderful training at Vail Valley Academy of Dance,” Harrison said. “Without my amazing ballet teachers, Joanne Morgan and Anne Powell, I would not have had the skills I needed to attend Walnut Hill School for the Arts or be a trainee at Portland Festival Ballet. The Vail Valley is so lucky to have a ballet studio of this quality.”
Jennifer Reid returned to the valley after college and took on the position as dance festival manager of the Vail International Dance Festival under Damian Woetzel.
“I cannot think of anything else in my life that prepared me to face the challenges in the real world more than training at Vail Valley Academy of Dance,” Reid said. “Miss Anne was always strict but in a very diplomatic, approachable way. She taught us how to be disciplined, dedicated and resilient. She had the rare and unique ability to pull out the absolute best in her dancers; we knew when she walked into the studio that it was time to get serious and focus. She not only challenged us as artists but as human beings, I am forever grateful for the impact she has had on my life.”
Jonathan Windham is dancing professionally in New York City with the Gallim Dance contemporary company. The local dance community is thrilled that he is performing in the Vail International Dance Festival this year on two evenings.
Guest teachers of the highest caliber are also brought in to supplement the training. Carol Roderick, the director of Colorado State University’s dance department and internationally known Vaganova expert, visits several times a year. Joan Kunch, from the Nutmeg Conservatory in Connecticut has been sharing her skills with Vail Valley Academy of Dance students for more than 10 years. Roberto Muñoz with Vail Valley Dance Intensive has also worked with Vail Valley Academy of Dance students.
Last fall, Parker Esse, internationally acclaimed choreographer, worked with the dancers of the Vail Youth Ballet Company. The dancers took master classes with Esse and learned “Crunchy Granola” a show-stopping piece from Bob Fosse’s “Dancin.” This piece brought down the house at last December’s “Winter Show” at the Vilar.
For the past 25 years, Vail has been greatly enriched by the presence of Vail Valley Academy of Dance. Every thread makes up the whole fabric of a community. From ski racers to ballet dancers, such diversity adds balance and richness to the lives of its people. Eagle County, indeed, owes Anne Powell many, many curtain calls. Brava!