Written by Jill Nossa Friday, 03 August 2012 00:00
Last winter, Kim Leary of Glen Dance Studio got the invitation of a lifetime that she never expected: to take her dance students to London to perform during the Olympic Games.
This week, she will be traveling with a group of 32 people to London, where 14 of her dance students and teachers will hold two performances for massive, international audiences.
The invitation came as a complete surprise. Leary says she was contacted via email by American Alliance of Performing Arts Educators (AAPAE), an organization that tries to get big venues for small groups to perform at by pooling those smaller groups together.
“When I first got the email, I thought it was spam and deleted it. But then I did more research on them and found out they were for real, and contacted them. They came and interviewed me and chose us,” Leary told the Record Pilot.
She says AAPAE looks for studios that have more of an artistic approach, not one that is focused on competition. The group will be participating in the English Arts Festival, an invitational three-week dance exhibition organized by AAPAE. More than 1,200 dancers will participate in the festival, including dancers from America, Russia, India, Mexico and the United Kingdom. The largest foreign contingent will be American, with 120 dance troupes participating.
Glen Dance Studio is the only company from the tri-state area participating in the festival. The group will perform a repertoire of ballet, lyrical, and jazz dances in two separate half-hour shows. On August 11, their performance will take place at the 1,000-year-old Warwick Castle located in the Cotswolds in the English countryside; and on August 12 in London, at Island Gardens, a Victorian-era park on the Thames River, where the Olympian equestrian events will be held.
Glen Dance Studio will showcase a poignant 9/11 ballet choreographed to “Heaven,” a song written and remixed by Sammy and Yanou for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. According to Leary, “The dance was created in honorable memory to give hope to the children of 9/11 — that their dads (or moms) who perished on that day, may still be a part of their children’s lives, guarding over them from heaven.”
When Leary heard the song on the radio, she was brought to tears. “It hit me on two levels. I felt all the emotions of fear, sadness and desperation from 10 years before, but it also got to me on a very personal level. I lost my dad six months before my wedding. In the song, a girl asks her dad if he will be there at her wedding when she walks down the aisle. I have to believe my dad was there for me.”
Leary knew if she could put a visual of a little girl growing up with this powerful song, the result would be very moving, especially to her community of New Yorkers, who may have lost relatives in the tragedy.
According to Leary, when the group rehearsed the piece, the dancers had to separate themselves from the emotional lyrics and focus on the music. After the dancers knew the choreography, they had to reconnect to the lyrics and the powerful feelings behind them. The group adorned in flowing red, white and blue costumes, recently performed the piece at the regional competition and won the “Stellar Award” for best dance in the competition and “Ultimate Crowd Pleaser” award. Leary says she is anxious to see how the piece will be received by international audiences.
“We’re excited to see the groups from other countries, and have heard that they are really excited to see what the American performers do,” Leary says, adding that they are also impressed by the professionalism of the event organizer.
“This will be a real professional production and will not feel like a school talent show, she added.”
Prior to performing in the UK, the Glen Dance Studio dancers and their families will spend one week touring the greater London area, attending Olympic events during the final week of the games and meeting fellow dancers participating in the festival. For many, it will be their first trip overseas.
While all of those traveling do have to pay for their own trip, most don’t want to miss the opportunity. Leary says that one of her teenage students decided to go but her mother could not afford to go with her. Upon hearing the story, her mother’s co-workers chipped in and gave her a blank check so that she can travel with the group.
Glen Dance Studio offers a variety of dance classes in ballet, lyrical, jazz, tap, hip hop and acrobats for children aged 3 to adult. Accomplished dancers audition to participate in Glen Dance Studio’s four levels of performance companies (petite, junior, senior and elite). The performance companies train annually and compete in national and regional competitions. In past years, the companies have performed at Disney World, Madison Square Garden, the Statue of Liberty, Six Flags Great Adventure and for numerous charity and social events.
Glen Dance Studio is located in Park Plaza in Old Brookville, New York. This year, it was nominated by Long Island Press for “Best Children’s Dance Studio on Long Island.” For more information contact 674-0082 or visit GlenDanceStudio.com.
Leary, who was trained mostly in ballet and lyrical, has now owned the studio for 16 years and has expanded to a staff of 10 teachers and between 300-400 students. She says many of her former students still keep in touch with her, and she even now teaches a child of one of her former students. She says she never imagined, upon opening the studio in Glen Cove all those years ago, that she would be at this point today.
“It’s a very rewarding job,” she says.