Changing Young Lives Through Dance at the Inwood Dance Company
By Laura Emmons
Changing Young Lives Through Dance at the Inwood Dance Company The Inwood Dance Company, including the Inwood Performing Arts Company, has brought a high level of artistry to our community since 1982 under the ownership of Denna and Winston Smith. Currently in its 34th season, the Inwood Dance Company is proud to bring The Nutcracker Ballet to the region again this holiday season.
A Humble Beginning
Denna Smith grew up in Inwood. At age four she started her instruction in ballet at the Ewing School of Dance under the tutelage of Dorothy Ewing. After receiving a Master of Arts from American University in Washington D.C. she went on to study dance all over the United States and abroad. She and her husband, Winston Smith, competed professionally in ballroom dancing. Denna always knew she wanted to teach dance to young people, and at the Royal Academy of Dance in London, she developed the skills she would use to do that.
Seeing a need for a high quality arts program in our community, she brought her passion for artistic leadership back home. In 1982 they built one dance studio. By 1985 they added a second studio to their building. They have renovated the building twice since then, adding two more large studios, practice rooms for private music lessons, a kitchen/lounge, offi ces, a costume/ wardrobe room, a library, a boutique that specializes in dance wear and supplies, and a Hall of Fame.
A History of Excellence From the beginning, Denna has focused on providing a high level of instruction at the school, hiring quality faculty and supplementing the permanent staff with guest instructors and choreographers, as well as providing opportunities for masters classes.
The first master instructor Denna hired for the company was Mistress Shan Dai, who was a principal dancer and teacher for the Central Ballet of China and the Beijing Dance Company. She brought a Russian style of ballet instruction to the company to complement the Royal Academy style taught by Denna. Now the Inwood Dance Company offers a blend of different movement qualities, offering a greater exposure to students for the whole realm of dance art.
Denna seeks out guest teachers who are not just exceptionally talented dancers, but who nurture and mentor her students. Often these guest dancers will participate in productions, allowing advanced students the opportunity to perform pas-de-deux with professional partners.
National Recognition The Inwood Dance Company is a member of Regional Dance America, a national association.
Membership is by invitation only, and member companies must adhere to a common set of instructional standards. They are the only dance company in West Virginia who has been accepted as a member to this organization. The national organization offers summer intensives, performances and masters classes. Every year they hold a festival to highlight the best choreography from all member companies.
A Wide Variety of Instruction Most of their program of study is oriented around children and adolescents. They offer instruction in classical ballet, pointe, jazz, tap, modern, Irish step and ballroom styles of dance. For adults they have classes in Ballet and Ballroom dancing. The Inwood Performing Arts Company also offers private instruction in guitar, piano and vocal performance. Music lessons can be tailored to a number of genres, ranging from classical piano and guitar to rock music.
A new class was added last year which focuses on training for boys, aged fi ve to eight. It is called the ‘Super Hero Program’. Boys learn agility and coordination, and build strength, speed, balance, and flexibility. All of these qualities can be directly applied to athletics and may lengthen an athlete’s career. Unlike the ballet program, the boys are not required to wear a leotard, but can wear any comfortable clothes which do not restrict movement. The use of super hero shirts is encouraged.
Dance classes run from September through June, however new students may join classes at the mid-term break in January. A summer dance workshop is offered in July.
A School That Encourages Increased Accomplishment The levels of instruction at the Inwood Dance Company follow the syllabus defined by the Royal Academy of Dance. Dance classes start at age three. The Creative Movement class focuses on building a love of dance among three year olds, teaches coordination, social skills and teamwork. Students aged four to five study pre-primary ballet, which begins to cover the positions of feet and arms, as well as the French vocabulary necessary for learning ballet. However, at this age there is still a lot of opportunity for self expression.
Primary ballet classes begin at age six and continue through age seven, where students develop a fuller use of their body, appreciate a sense of musicality and develop a style and presence in their dance movements. At this point students are also encouraged to explore other mediums, especially tap dance, but also jazz, contemporary and Irish step styles.
Ballet One through Ballet Four are the next levels of study for older students and promote technical growth, vocabulary, placement and artistry. They take place at ages eight through ten.
Advanced Instruction and Scholarship Opportunities At age eleven, many students progress to Ballet Grade Five, where they begin Pointe work. At this time apprenticeships may be offered to study with the highest level of achievement, their performance company. Advanced dancers who join the performance dance company have opportunities to learn choreography as well as to participate in additional productions.
Students at this level often attend summer dance programs where they have an opportunity to work with professional dancers from all over the world. These summer programs are offered at places like the Atlanta Ballet or the Nashville Ballet. Some have participated in the summer program at the English National Ballet Company in London. A number of Inwood students receive scholarships to attend summer programs.
Advanced dancers may also receive the Dorothy Ewing Merit Scholarship to cover the cost of tuition at the Inwood Dance Company. These scholarships are offered every year and are based on ability, commitment and need.
The Performance Dance Company
This year the Inwood Performance Dance Company is comprised of twenty-three young women ranging in age between eleven and eighteen. In addition to the annual performance of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Ballet, which the company has performed every year since 1991, they will participate in the West Virginia State Dance Festival at the Cultural Center in Charleston from April 28 through April 29, 2017. They will also participate in the Regional Dance America National Dance Festival in Phoenix, AZ from May 2 through May 6, 2017. For these festivals, guest teacher Eddie Ocampo is developing choreography for a new contemporary piece titled ‘A Crude Awakening’. Inwood alumnus, Nicolette White, currently a student at West Virginia University, will also return as a guest choreographer for a new contemporary work.
Successful Alumni Denna knows that the vast majority of her students do not become professional dancers, but feels gratified when she sees how the dedication, discipline and artistry of ballet has shaped their lives in whatever career path they choose.
Throughout the history of the Inwood Dance Company a few graduates have established careers as professional dancers. Denna’s first success was jazz dancer, Christy Kitchen. Denna recalls that Christy had a natural talent for jazz and contemporary dance. She left the area right after high school to attend the Gus Giordano School of Dance. Later she joined Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago.
In the early nineties, Stacey Kincaid attended the Kirov Academy after graduating from the Inwood Dance Company and later joined the Colorado Ballet. In the late nineties and early 2000, Denna’s most successful male student, Daniel Mallott, went on to join the Louisville Ballet. Her most recent alumnus to become a professional dancer is Stephanie Wood, a graduate of Oklahoma City University.
Currently, Ms. Wood is head of the dance program at the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts in Fredericksburg, VA.
This Year’s Nutcracker Ballet Performances for the Nutcracker Ballet will be held at Musselman High School. Four performances are scheduled on December 15 and 16, 2016 for local students. Thirteen schools from Berkeley and Jefferson counties in West Virginia and Frederick Country, Virginia will be offered field trips to see these performances. Before the fi eld trips, Denna will provide seminars at each of these schools to teach students about the history of dance, the story behind the Nutcracker Ballet and appropriate theater etiquette.
Performances open to the public are scheduled for Saturday, December 17, 2016 at 7 PM and Sunday, December 18, 2016 at 3 PM. This year the Nutcracker production will feature two guest artists. Israel Rodriguez, a former principal at the Orlando Ballet, will perform the role of the Nutcracker/Prince. Pablo Sanchez, a principal with the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago, will play the role of the Cavalier to the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Tickets to this year’s public performances of the Nutcracker Ballet range in price from $15 to $40 for adults and $10 to $30 for children. To purchase tickets, call the Inwood Dance Company at (304) 229-3209.
Normal business hours for the Inwood Dance Company are between 12 – 8:30 PM, Monday through Thursday, 4:30-8:00 PM on Friday and 9:30 AM – 2:00 PM on Saturday. They can be reached by phone at (304) 229-3209, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit their website at inwoodperformingarts.com or like them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Inwood-Performing-Arts-Company.