Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Dancers Leap to New Heights Through Verb Ballets Partnership
August 23, 2017 by Kelly Misch | No Comments

"It's important for us to keep pushing ourselves as dancers and also as teachers, learners and advocates for this art form — because it's special. And I think ultimately what's really nice about this whole partnership is now Fairmount has this group community identity.” ­– Kate Webb

Nestled within the quiet of Russell Township is Fairmount Center for the Arts, a thriving multi-faceted, nonprofit organization that recently won Cleveland Magazine’s Best of the East 2017 award in the Best Dance and Theater Instruction category.

Founded by Ron and Jan Kumin in 1970, FCA serves the community with a curriculum-based dance program, recreational dance and fitness classes, art courses, theatre workshops, music classes, and private voice and instrument instruction.

Libby Lubinger, who is currently FCA’s director of recreational dance and artistic director of Fairmount Spanish Dancers, has played an integral role at the center since its groundbreaking. Serving as both a teacher and director for decades, she has seen the evolution of FCA’s offerings through time, including the creation and later restoration of Fairmount Dance Theatre, the curriculum-based dance program.

FDT, originally an adult modern dance company, was dissolved after the Kumins’ departure from FCA in the late 1970s.

“Years later, I felt the need to again have a group where serious young dancers could take multiple classes in the various dance genres and have an outlet to perform,” said Lubinger. “We resurrected the name FDT, but this time, it was a creation for young dancers of the ages that it is now.”

Lubinger, who became director of all dance at FCA following the Kumins’ departure, served in that capacity until 2016.

Dancing in a New Direction

In Fall 2015, the caliber of the FDT program continued to soar when FCA formed a partnership with Verb Ballets, a contemporary ballet company based in Shaker Heights. As a result of the partnership, the center’s FDT program is now under the direction of Margaret Carlson, Verb’s producing artistic director, while Lubinger directs the center’s recreational dance program.

“Verb oversees FDT’s dance curriculum and syllabus, as well as the philosophy behind it,” said Carlson.

The FDT program, which provides classical dance training for students ages 5 to 18, offers a progressive curriculum in ballet, pre-pointe, pointe, jazz, tap and contemporary, with an introduction to acrobatics. The program, which emphasizes proper alignment and methodology, will feature its third annual “Nutcracker Tea” performance this holiday season and continue with its tradition of producing a themed recital in the spring.

Carlson said the partnership between FCA and Verb represents the first time Verb has directed classes at a non-university level. Verb is currently advising the dance courses at John Carroll University and did the same for Hiram College for over a decade.

“The other goal was to try and involve the Verb dancers as much as possible as the teaching staff at Fairmount,” said Carlson. “The motto has been professional dance training taught by professionals.”

Lubinger said the center is fortunate to have Carlson as the dance theater director and Verb dancers involved in the teaching at the center.

“I think it’s wonderful that the students of FDT are able to get such professional dance instruction and have the opportunity to perform with such a wonderful company,” added Lubinger.

Hannah Barna, who came aboard FCA in the fall of 2015, became the FDT coordinator in July 2016. She also teaches several genres of dance and is one of the program’s choreographers. Additionally, Barna organizes, directs and stage-manages the center’s bi-annual performances.

To facilitate the partnership with Verb, Barna works as an on-site liaison between Carlson and the FCA office staff.

Also integral to the FDT program is Kate Webb, a Verb company dancer serving FDT through her instructional and choreographic work. Webb teaches a wide range of age groups and styles of dance.

“We train the students so that they have the understanding of exactly where every muscle needs to be,” said Webb. “If you watch the students at Barre, there’s a culture of their movement style. What makes ballet so beautiful is everything is so precise.”

Other Verb company dancers who contribute their instructional and choreographic expertise to the FDT program include Omar Humphrey, Sabrina Lindhout and Kelly Korfhage. Additionally, Verb company dancer Michael Escovedo serves the FDT program through his choreographic work.

While many FDT students continue the program through age 18 and then embark on other career plans after high school, there are some FDT students who plan to continue their dance training at the university level.

“The students are getting a really solid background at Fairmount that can enable them to move in a professional direction,” said Carlson. “If a student wants to become a professional dancer, we individually counsel them and come up with a plan of action.”

Student Longevity & Rewarding Experiences

A large proportion of the dance theater students have been with the center since a very young age, often beginning in the Kinderdance program instructed by Fredrick Moodie, who is also an FDT tap instructor. Typically at age 5, students can progress to the dance theater program.

The Fanger family has had over a decade of experience with FCA via daughters Samantha, 11, and Elizabeth, 19.

“The Fairmount faculty has been very positive and Kate Webb, Fredrick Moodie and Hannah Barna have all been wonderful and have each contributed greatly to the overall positive experience our daughter Samantha has at Fairmount,” said Jeff Fanger, a Munson Township resident. “I know that Omar Humphrey and Hannah Barna have both been very instrumental in choreographic decisions, which have raised the bar at Fairmount.”

Laura Gracon’s daughter, Anna, who takes ballet, contemporary and tap classes at FCA, has just completed her fifth year at the center.

“Anna has been excited to work with Verb and take lessons from professional dancers,” said Gracon, o Chester Township. “They have all been very encouraging and supportive of the dancers. Anna was excited to have the opportunity to go backstage with Kate Webb before one of their performances and see how a professional performance works.”

FDT instructors, in turn, reap the rewards of working with the students.

“I’ve loved the two years I’ve been teaching at Fairmount,” said Barna. “I’ve enjoyed helping to foster the love of dance in younger students. Getting to work with them continually for two years has helped me to understand each dancer’s different way of learning and to individualize my teaching for each student. They have truly made me a better teacher.”

New Dancers Welcome at Any Age

While many dance theater students begin at a very young age, the program can also accommodate older children with no previous dance experience. Webb said those individuals are welcome to start in a class with younger students initially or they can take private lessons in order to progress more to their age group.

Isabelle Ericson, 11, of Chardon, is an example of one such student who began private ballet lessons with Webb this year and will enter the FDT program in the fall.

“Fairmount and Kate have been very accommodating with my daughter, including flexibility of scheduling lessons and including her in the summer session,” said Shana Ericson. “Isabelle enjoys Fairmount very much and says that she looks forward to learning more ballet and progressing to pointe. She is also excited about learning other forms like jazz and contemporary.”

Gratitude & Teamwork

Carlson, Barna and Webb reflected on how far FCA has come since the FDT program and Verb first began collaborating two years ago and the sense of unity they want to impart to the students.

“The enrollment is way, way up,” said Carlson. “And this year, we introduced the idea of volunteerism. A part of everyday life is to volunteer. So while you’re a student at Fairmount, it’s important that you do a volunteer activity as part of being a student. It helps you become more aware that you’re part of a larger organization. So this year, we had some of the upper-level girls come in to assist with the younger classes.”

Likewise, what Barna said she hopes most to impart to the students is the importance of being a well-rounded dancer.

She added, “We encourage our dancers to be good students and participate in other activities besides dance, thus helping them grow as people as well as dancers.”

Webb said one of the best things about working at the center is they are all a team as a faculty and she feels fortunate to have found the relationship with FCA and Verb.

“It’s important for us to keep pushing ourselves as dancers and also as teachers, learners and advocates for this art form — because it’s special,” added Webb. “And I think ultimately what’s really nice about this whole partnership is now Fairmount has this group community identity.”

Registration for FCA’s Fall Session I is currently underway with classes beginning Sept. 5. To learn more about FCA and its FDT program as well as other class offerings, or to register for fall classes, visit www.fairmountcenter.org or call 440-338-3171.

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