Dancers’ Workshop showcases Jackson talent nationwide

Aug 10, 2012

First started in 1971, Dancers' Workshop has been teaching dance in Jackson for more than four decades. Today, the non-profit dance school reaches nearly 500 students, from toddlers to adults. And the group brings dance into the lives of thousands of more people through its performances, including a series that presents world-renown companies from New York to San Francisco. But the school's audiences and students are not just in Jackson. Rebecca Huntington has more...

MELETA BUCKSTAFF: Five, six, seven and eight (clap), second and up. Yes, that is so much better...

HUNTINGTON: Meleta Buckstaff is leading a rehearsal for Contemporary Dance Wyoming. Started by Dancers Workshop, this group is the state's first modern dance company. At this rehearsal, four dancers are each taking turns being lifted, carried and otherwise propped up by other dancers.

BUCKSTAFF: Definitely, you want to be close to whoever is the soloist so that they can like have opportunities to use you.

HUNTINGTON: One dancer is Natalia Duncan.

NATALIA DUNCAN: Both Dancers' Workshop and the Center for the Arts was a big lure in moving here. I moved here from Los Angeles, but I grew up in Tennessee.

HUNTINGTON: Opened in 2004, Jackson's Center for the Arts provides Dancers' Workshop with modern dance studios and access to a 500-seat theater where the group can present both its own dancers and renowned companies from big cities.

DUNCAN: Dancers' Workshop continues to bring outside artists in, whether it's New York City Ballet or just a teacher, so that we all can continue to grow.

NAT: Crackle of tinfoil.

HUNTINGTON: Seated at her kitchen table, Babs Case is sculpting tinfoil into the shape of a dancer. Case is the artistic director for Dancers' Workshop. She's practicing the foil sculptures for a summer creative arts camp in Lander where she'll use the activity to teach kids about movement and balance.

CASE: Well, I wanted him to be supporting his weight on one hand. So he's upside down, legs extended. [NAT "perfect] I always try to do the least obvious example for the kids so that they can say, 'Oh, right, I could turn him upside down.'

HUNTINGTON: Case has preformed, choreographed and taught modern dance throughout the U.S., Europe, Asia, Canada and South America. When she joined Dancers' Workshop in 1998, she says she wanted it to serve not just Jackson but the entire state. The group now does 22 weeks of residencies in places like Pinedale and Gillette. And how many kids do they reach?

CASE: As many as I possibly can.

HUNTINGTON: Case started her own dance career at age three, urged on by her mother, who was a painter.

BABS CASE: She also had polio as a child, and so I think that for her dance was just something that was very important.

HUNTINGTON: And the non-profit believes its important to bring dance into the daily lives of the thousands of people, who annually attend the group's classes, performances and residency programs. Case says the organization has had a long lineage of distinguished teachers. Something she's continued to strive for...

CASE: It used to be that the adults performed with the junior company or the kids and when I came that was one of the things that I felt very strongly about that they should be separated.

HUNTINGTON: So she created Contemporary Dance Wyoming, which attracts high-level dancers, who then work as teachers. Kate Kosharek is one of those dancers. She's a member of Contemporary Dance Wyoming and one of the teachers.

KOSHAREK: What helps keep the high quality of teachers here in Jackson at Dancers' Workshop is that we do get performing opportunities.

HUNTINGTON: Case agrees that such opportunities to teach and to perform are a significant lure. 

CASE: We have three students that have gone full circle. That started with Dancers' Workshop, grew up in Dancers' Workshop, went away to major universities and colleges and got degrees and now they're back. And I would say that for me when I started out in 1998 that was a huge goal for me was to create a place for these dancers to come back to...

HUNTINGTON: Meleta Buckstaff is one of those Jackson students to come full circle. Now twenty-five, she first started taking lessons with the group at age six.

BUCKSTAFF: When I was growing up we had a space in the Old Pink Garter Theater, a couple blocks away. All the studios were in the basement. One of them had a pole in the middle of it and it was cold. It got flooded sometimes, but you know we still loved it.

HUNTINGTON: Today, she's a teacher and administrative assistant for Dancers' Workshop and a member of Contemporary Dance Wyoming. She marvels at the changes.

BUCKSTAFF: The kids growing up now, they just think that it's normal that they get to go see companies from New York and San Francisco and you know all over the world.

HUNTINGTON: But it's a big change from the basement studio where Buckstaff first discovered her own love of dance. For Wyoming Public Radio, I'm Rebecca Huntington in Jackson.