Published on February 16th, 2016 | by Millennium Magazine Staff


District Five students get dance, life lessons during Charlotte Ballet ‘dance residency’

Pictured: Students in Irmo High School’s advanced dance class learn new choreography as part of a 10-day dance residency with the Charlotte Ballet. 

COLUMBIA – Students at Irmo High School received lessons and a first-hand look at opportunities in the professional dance industry as part of a February residency at the international arts magnet school.

The 10-day event Feb. 2-12 included ballet lessons, choreography and master classes at the Lexington-Richland District Five school. On Feb. 10, members of the Charlotte Ballet performed and provided a lecture demonstration for the more than 50 students in the school’s dance program. The featured guest artist for the residency was Skyla Caldwell, a ballet instructor who formerly danced with the National Ballet of Cuba among other companies.

“It’s been absolutely wonderful. The first day they really invited me in and they put forth 100 percent effort…it’s been the best dance residency I’ve done at a school so far, hands down,” Caldwell said. “Over the past week or so, we’ve gone over technique and learned new choreography. It’s a great experience for the students, and lets them see what being a professional dancer is like. I think more students should have opportunities like this.”

Officially launched during the 2014-15 school year, the Irmo International High School for the Arts offers standards-based, arts-infused curriculum along with added opportunities for students to grow their artistic skills. The arts magnet program is funded in part by a Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) federal grant, which Lexington-Richland District Five schools received in 2013. Some of the courses added at Irmo High School through the magnet program include: world percussion, world dance, public art, guitar, piano and acting for television and film. New supplies, music master classes and dance clinics have also been implemented.

Students in the February dance residency said opportunities at the school have exposed them to the arts options that are available after graduation.

“It’s been amazing, especially as a dancer and someone trying to dance at a collegiate level, being able to work with professional artists and kind of have the gist of how to act in a dance environment…,” said Alyssa Haygood-Taylor, a senior who plans to pursue a career in medicine while dancing on a college team.

Dance partner Thel Moore added, “I want to dance professionally, so this has been a really great opportunity to see what it takes. We’ve had so many great experiences and it has just opened my eyes to what’s available in dance.”

On Feb. 10, students watched as dancers provided an hour-long performance that included a mix of contemporary and modern ballet set to pop, gospel and a variety of music genres. Performances like these have inspired students to become professional dancers, said Traci Gilchrest, ballet mistress for the Charlotte Ballet.

“In many of the places that we go to, many of the students and even the adults don’t know that people can dance as a job. They all think it’s a hobby or something that’s done on the side,” Gilchrest said. “That’s one of the best things about going to these schools. The students learn that they can do something that they love and make a living out of it.”

Irmo High School dance instructor Gabrielle Peterson has seen a number of her students go to the next level of dance after graduation.

“We’ve had students earn scholarships for dance. We have students working professionally in dance, and a few of my students are working to audition and compete for spots on college teams,” Peterson said. “So, these residencies and opportunities for the students are really important. It not only helps their skill level, but it also connects them with professional dancers and lets them see what is possible.”

Wrapping up her 10-day visit to Irmo High School, Caldwell had this advice for the students:

“Do not stop, do not stop,” she said. “You’re going to get more nos then you get yeses. Do not stop, if it’s something that you really want to do, you can.”







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