Alma Can Dance!
If dance is the “hidden language of the soul,” the students of Alma School District have a lot to say.
Each spring, the Alma Performing Arts Center hosts the Alma School District dance show, a two-hour showcase of students’ talents and creativity. This is not a recital, according to dance instructors Brooke Brewer and Sara Murray, it is a cross between a modern musical and a ballet. Every dance show has a theme and each dance number relates to the theme in a fluid sequence to tell a story through movement.
According to Pamm Treece, assistant superintendent, this student-run production is the culminating project for the dance classes offered at Alma High School and Alma Middle School. Alma offers dance as an elective course in grades 7-12. Dance is very unique to the Alma School District. Very few Arkansas public schools have a dance program. The performance showcases the benefit the program has on students in the district and the community as a whole, she said.
“The fact that the program is inclusive for both females and males is important to the development of arts in the River Valley. We have a large number of boys who are not only interested, but also very talented. Their participation allows our dance program to include elements that would not be possible otherwise,” Treece said. “Interestingly, in the last few years, several of the male dancers on our competitive dance team also play football or basketball.”
More than 300 students participate in the show; more than 100 of them are male.
Because the Alma dance classes feature jazz, hip-hop and aerial dancing, many guys jump at the opportunity to participate. The aerial numbers are particularly popular.
Work on the show begins in December. Students are involved in every aspect. They’re involved in brainstorming phase-song ideas, dance concepts, costuming and stage design. By early March, students begin learning the numbers. Class time in March and April is used to teach, rehearse and polish routines. Most classes also have after-school rehearsals.
The middle school dancers have about eight hours of after-school rehearsal. In contrast, the high school dance team spends about 85 hours rehearsing outside of school. Students dedicate about four hours, four times per week, plus Saturday mornings to rehearsal. Behind the scenes, there are two student stage managers who call all cues from the stage wings, a student prop and costume manager and a full student tech crew handling lighting, sound and props.
Kids also build the set, hang lighting and the more advanced students help with choreography.
“My favorite thing about working on the dance show is watching the creativity pour out of students and staff who work on it. No idea around here is too crazy! We've flown a drummer in on a platform, crowd surfed a student, students have jumped into the orchestra pit and flown over the audience. If we can dream it up, we try to find a way to make it happen,” said Murray, one of the two dance instructors. “Watching the students problem-solve to find a way to make ideas that seem impossible happen is so much fun.”
The show is performed for the Alma High School student body before opening to the public.
“This sneak peek performance is a great opportunity to expose our students to a dance performance and help build interest in the program,” explained director Brooke Brewer. The Alma community supports the dance program and fosters student interest in performance arts, Brewer said. “I love hearing stories from people who do not have kids in the program anymore, but still come see the dance show every year to support the program and see what our students are up to.”
Alma’s dance program is by far the largest in Arkansas and it is important for the community to get to see what it does for students. Theresa Schlabach, the executive director of the Alma Performing Arts Center, called it “amazing.”
This show centers around a day in the life of an Alma student. The dance department, every year, tries to do something completely different from anything that has been done before.
“This show will be really fun because it is going to become a collaborative effort between multiple campus groups. We have some members of the band who will be involved, the video production class and our theater department will be involved in making the show come together. We will explore different classes that occur throughout the school day and situations that high school students may find themselves in,” Murray said.
While the program is about dance, it teaches the value of hard work, dedication, creativity and working as a group to achieve a common goal. Two performances are open to the public: 7 p.m. April 29 and 2 p.m. April 30. Tickets can be purchased at almapac.org.
Contributing writing Jami Ann Balkman is a district literacy specialist in the Alma Public Schools.
This article appears in the April 2017 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith magazine.