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Saint James Dance Program Set to Soar  10/23/2015

For many, the most memorable moment from last year’s Winter Variety Show was a dance performance by Casey Kwon ’18 (shown rt. in white), who portrayed a young girl whose life ended in a tragic texting and driving accident. The performance moved many to tears.

The architect behind this performance, as well as the other lively dances that brought audience members to the other end of the emotional spectrum, was Mrs. Amelia Fitzsimmons. Fitzsimmons joined Saint James School in 2014 as Associate Director of Admission. Since taking the reins from Ms. Hannah Gold, a chemistry teacher and the former dance instructor, Fitzsimmons has sought to expand the dance program and to offer students the opportunity to explore new disciplines, both traditional and contemporary.

This year, Fitzsimmons aspires to take the program to new heights. “I think this will be an exciting year of growth for the dance program, in general,” she said. The program attracted 27 participants last year. For the 2015-16 season, 33 students (all girls) have signed on.

To manage what has become one of the most popular winter athletics programs, Fitzsimmons solicited the support of coaches Jenna Skarda-Higgins and Veronica Zawie. Skarda-Higgins is a certified yoga instructor who will lead the Stretch & Relaxation component of the group’s Wednesday Company Classes, and Zawie will join the dancers on Fridays to lead the Strength & Conditioning portion.

The dancers will have access to both studios for rehearsals this season, allowing them to expand their body of work from three pieces to nine. “Furthermore,” according to Fitzsimmons, “this allows us to do our own Dance Showcase (February 20, 2016 at 8 pm), rather than be just a portion of the Winter Variety Show. Having their own show is HUGE for our dancers,” she continued, pointing out that while other athletes participate in weekly games and meets to demonstrate their hard work throughout the season, dancers don’t have this opportunity. The February event will provide the girls with a night entirely dedicated to the recognition of their months of hard work and dedication.

This year's program also allows our more experienced dance students to have the opportunity to create their own works through student-choreographed pieces. To address the needs and wants of students who want to have access to dance year-round, students established a new a Dance Club. Many students participating in Dance Club are also in the Winter Dance program. Club members’ student-choreographed pieces will be included in the February 20th performance. The Club, along with open studio hours, enables students committed to other winter sports to remain involved in the dance program.

Fitzsimmons is also expanding the program this year by introducing a Guest Artist series in which she will bring in professional dancers/choreographers to teach Master Classes and/or workshops to the dancers. This year’s Guest Artist series will include a beginner/intermediate hip-hop workshop, an advanced hip-hop workshop, beginner and intermediate/advanced ballet workshops, and a step and African dance workshop.

“I love that our dance program is open to students of all levels and experience,” said Fitzsimmons. “We strive to make it a safe, comfortable place, where we discover and foster each other’s creative ability.” She also pointed out that “dance is a great way to blow off steam after a rough day, and a great way to turn your focus inward to examine and express yourself in a uniquely gratifying way that only dance can provide.

On October 30th, Fitzsimmons will take a small delegation of Saint James dancers to participate in the WAISDEA Dance Festival at Sandy Spring Friends School. The Festival is modeled after the American College Dance Festival, and provides a wide array of dance workshops from different cultures and styles, as well as an all-student modern dance technique class for various skill levels. We’ll share more about this in an upcoming story.

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