This summer, the Snowy Range Dance Festival is drawing dancers from across the Rocky Mountains and as far away as Florida for a period of intensive dance training. Now in its eighteenth year, the festival has long been an important resource for dancers in the region.
MADISON WILLIAMS: In a basement studio at the University of Wyoming, teenage girls and a few boys are preparing for their morning ballet class. They chat as they fold themselves into stretches, massage their calves, and wrap athletic tape around blistered toes. When the teacher calls them to attention, the students assemble at the ballet barre and begin a warm up exercise.
The students have come for the Snowy Range Dance Festival, a week and a half long dance camp at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. Most hail from Western states like Wyoming, Colorado, and Idaho. Ballet teacher Susan Massey says for students the festival is an eye-opening experience.
SUSAN MASSEY: We have a lot of students that come from tiny towns, not much opportunity expect at the studio where they are studying. Good studios, but they can only offer so much. So that, in the summer, by having a festival such as this, they have exposure. It opens up their mind and their brain and their body to ways of doing things, new choices, new challenges, and it’s an enrichment, it’s an exposure.
WILLIAMS: The Snowy Range Dance Festival is the only one of its kind in Wyoming. Students range in age from eleven to adult. Some are beginners, while others aspire to professional careers. This year dancers from the Salt Lake City group Repertory Dance Theater came to teach technique and choreography. Festival Director Margaret Wilson says students at the festival experience a diverse and intense spectrum of classes.
MARGARET WILSON: The students will take a ballet class, they’ll take a modern class. If they’ve had training in pointe, they’ll take a pointe class, they’ll take an improvisation class, and so they’re dancing from 8 o’clock in the morning until five o clock at night
WILLIAMS: In addition to technique classes, students learn routines that they perform the end of the festival. Of course, dancing eight hours a day for eleven days straight is physically demanding, and by the fourth day of the festival, students are tired, blistered, and sore. Eleven year old Annabelle Cooksey says it’s all worth it.
ANNABELLE COOKSEY: I am tired, but I know that I worked hard. And just the satisfaction of knowing that I did my best and I achieved something, that’s reason enough to, you know, be tired all those days.
WILLIAMS: For an aspiring dancer, intensive camps like this one can be a crucial aspect of training. Many students of the festival have gone on to successful professional careers in dance .Eighteen year old Julia Cooper is returning for her third year, and will attend the University of Wyoming as a dance major in the fall.
JULIA COOPER: It’s an incredible chance to get in really good shape, and you learn so much. It’s incredible learning experiences that you can’t get anywhere else/
WILLIAMS: Though the festival is only a week long, students still reap major rewards. Susan Massey says improvement during the festival can be mental as well as physical.
MASSEY: It’s in tiny little increments that we see growth physically, but it’s in large increments that we see it mentally. It’s like the light comes on. It’s like ‘Oh, that’s what you mean by pulling up, or being over your leg, or you know, alignment.’”
WILLIAMS: During the festival, students learn 5-6 minute pieces, which they perform at a final gala performance.
This year, the Gala performance will take place at the University of Wyoming on July 21st .. The first half will showcase students of the Festival, and the second half will feature performances from the visiting company Repertory Dance Theater. For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Madison Williams