I recently had the pleasure of substitute teaching for a new 8:00 a.m. class at the School District of Greenville County’s Fine Arts Center dance program and was reminiscing about my 18 years of teaching there. It has come a long way since 1984! The new faculty member who teaches the 8:00 a.m. class, Elizabeth Wright, is a graduate of The Juilliard School who is married to a Greenville native who recently moved his family back here (he helps me with our website!). Jan Woodward, who co-taught with me for many years is the teacher of the rest of the day’s classes. I substitute teach there frequently for dance and other classes, so it’s still like a second home to me.
In 1984 when I was the South Carolina Arts Commission’s Performing Artist Fellowship winner, I did a teaching residency and a piece of choreography there and soon started teaching part- or full-time until 2002. Back then we were in an old Elementary School on W. Washington St. past the train station in an adequate but humble facility (it is now beautifully remodeled and expanded by the Legacy Charter Elementary School). Students were bused there from one of the 14 high schools and it was hard for them to fit the classes into their day. We had mostly students with little or no previous training, most of the local dance schools did not want to send their students to us because they might lose their business, we had to accept a large percentage of the applicants to have enough students, and often our students’ only dance training was what we provided them. Today the Fine Arts Center dance program is housed in a new, large, state-of-the-art building next to the new Wade Hampton High School. Students may attend Wade Hampton if they are accepted at the Fine Arts Center, eliminating the need to travel during the school day, although many still do travel from the other high schools. Virtually all the dance students have had extensive previous training, continue to train at private studios, and are carefully selected from a large number of applicants.
The Fine Arts Center dance program
The curriculum includes some ballet technique, some modern dance technique, and a lot of repertoire where students work on choreography created for them by a variety of visiting artists each year. Many of the students continue on to dance studies at colleges and universities around the country. The program is an excellent preparation for that track. Many professional modern dancers and Broadway dancers do this kind of training and get jobs after college.
My only disclaimer is that a classical ballet track to get a job in a classical company after college, or preferably after high school, requires daily classes in classical ballet (including pointe for the girls) throughout the high school years. I would say that your first 90 minutes of every day you have a dance class should be ballet, and then additional hours might include modern, jazz, and work on choreography to perform. Many students preparing for a serious ballet career at professional schools like my alma mater Canada’s National Ballet School have one or even two 90-minute ballet classes per day, six days a week, in addition to preparing for performances.
We need to thank the founder of the program, Dr. Virginia Uldrick, who convinced the School District to have such a Center for the arts and later went on to found the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. Also instrumental to the creation of the new facility and many of the expanded programs is retiring director Dr. Roy Fluhrer who was a great and supportive boss and friend of the arts who has made the “FAC” his life’s work.
The Greenville Ballet School has had many students over the years who profited from the Fine Arts Center dance program. Kevin Boseman who went on to dance with the Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey companies and in the Lion King and other shows, Jared Phillips who danced with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Peter Base who is an active dancer currently with Rochester City Ballet, Todd Fulton Burns who went on to be a university theater professor and national expert in stage combat, and our faculty member Rebecca Lee, among others.
It’s a joy to see the great progress that the Fine Arts Center dance program has made in its facility, curriculum, and level of students. The program continues to help current Greenville Ballet School students get additional hours of good training and experience each week. Plus, I still get to hang out there a lot!