New groove, enduring tune at Stephens College summer programs

Friday, June 26, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 3:19 p.m. CDT, Friday, June 26, 2009
Jeremy Stanfield leaps in the air at a rehearsal at the Macklanburg Playhouse at Stephens College. The dance group has its concert Friday and Saturday.

COLUMBIA — For the students in Stephens College summer dance and theater programs, confronting new challenges is part of the curriculum.

Some dancers never considered their feet an instrument they could play with a pair of tap shoes. Others tried acting for the first time, while a number of actors found it a stretch to sing and dance.

If you go

What: Stephens Summer Dance concert, muscial revue

When: Dance concert on Friday and Saturday; musical revue on Monday. All shows start at 7:30 p.m.

Where: All shows will be performed at Macklanburg Playhouse, 100 Willis Ave., Stephens College.

Cost: All shows are free and open to the public. Donations are accepted. Seating is general admission. The house will open at 7 p.m.

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These students will cap their summer season and share their new talents this weekend in a Stephens dance concertFriday and Saturday and a musical revue Monday.


Columbia native Claire Gardner-Dale, 19, was among several dancers in a six-week Stephens College dance-intensive program this summer who struggled to learn new techniques.

“I’m not a tapper,” Gardner-Dale said, catching what breath she could after performing and smiling through the opening tap number. “I’ve never actually done tap before.”

But tap was only the beginning of Gardner-Dale’s challenges: She was asked to act.

“I’m mainly a ballet dancer, so it’s been really hard to talk to people and enunciate and have everyone understand me through words,” she said.

This year's dance concert includes pieces of musical theater from the Broadway hits “A Chorus Line” and “42nd Street,” as well as dance-free acting. 

The hourlong show will be performed for free at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the Macklanburg Playhouse at Stephens College.

Artistic Director Carol Estey, whose background is in musical theater, worked in New York for 40 years before coming to Stephens in August 2008 to chair the dance department. She said the inclusion of acting to the intensive six-week summer program is an opportunity for students to add depth to their skill set.

“Dancers tend to, in my experience, think they can’t speak, think they can’t sing, think they can’t do those things, mostly because they haven’t had the opportunity to,” Estey said. “They’ve been so devoted to dancing they haven’t given themselves a real chance.”

Students were taught yoga, modern dance, ballet, tap, Pilates, acting and musical theater/jazz in two three-week sessions.  

Estey said the performers learned the new techniques from top-notch professionals, including Michael Gormen, the dance captain of the current national touring production of “A Chorus Line.”

Though professionals are lending their talents, for the students, it is still part of their education. Estey said the students are discovering more about technique.

“They’re expressing themselves in the tap through a full-body thing that becomes very rhythmic in their feet, so they’ve learned to express through their feet,” she said.

Although Gardner-Dale insisted she is not a “tapper,” when the curtain rises just high enough to reveal a row of side-lit legs in tap shoes, she blends with the rest of the ensemble.

“What’s great about dancing is you dance to everyone’s level,” she said. “It’s been really great to have other people there to inspire me.”


Student actors Laura Kline, 19, and Rhea Amos,18, claim they are not singers.

“I’m a good singer at karaoke,” Kline joked about her song and dance numbers in Monday’s musical revue, a collection of famous Broadway hits.

“I don’t really sing, and I don’t really dance, and then, to be in this show where you are forced to work hard gives you something to go for,” Amos said.

Kline agreed with her fellow actor and said the Stephens Summer Theatre Insitute, a six-week session, like the dance program, stressed the importance of presentation.  

“It’s really about investing in your work and being proud of what you do,” she said.  Sounding good is important, she said, but it’s just as much about how the actor sells the character.

“You can have the best voice in the world, but if people don’t believe what you’re singing, then it’s just a pretty voice. It’s not the same as musical theater,” artistic director Rob Doyen said.

Doyen took over the annual revue in 1992, but even before he arrived, the hourlong  show was a tradition.

“There’s just something about musicals,” he said. “It just combines everything: dance, music, singing — the whole works.”

He said the assortment of musical numbers is the finale to the summer season because it draws on everything students learned in the three previous productions, “Fantastic Fables and Fairy Tales,” “Jerks and Freaks” and “Combat!”

“(This group of students) bonded together real quickly,” Doyen said. “Throughout the whole summer, that bond has taken place and grown, and, really, the musical is the culmination of that effort.”

Audiences can expect to see a variety of musical theater favorites, he said. “It’s a production full of show-stopping numbers.”

Which ones? He said theatergoers will have to see for themselves.

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