A! Magazine for the Arts

Highlands Ballet Company dancers in a scene from "Can't Stop the Feeling," which is the signature piece for the  Virginia Highlands Festival. Vocals are by Lindsey Blackwell, and choreography is by Deirdre Cole.

Highlands Ballet Company dancers in a scene from "Can't Stop the Feeling," which is the signature piece for the Virginia Highlands Festival. Vocals are by Lindsey Blackwell, and choreography is by Deirdre Cole.

The Virginia Highlands Festival celebrates dance

July 27, 2017

The Virginia Highlands Festival is doing something a little different this year with its signature artist. Instead of a signature piece of artwork or a song, it's a dance performance by Highlands Ballet Company.

"The way it came about is our president suggested "Kick up Your Heels' would be a fun Festival theme. Our marketing committee thought it was a great idea, and suggested that it makes you think of dance. We'd been working on and off with Highlands Ballet. I knew that Deirdre Cole would create something of high quality that would truly embody the spirit of the Festival. That's what we want in a new piece of art - something that embodies the spirit of the Festival. We've never had a performance before, something that can disappear once it's finished," says Becky Caldwell, executive director.

"Working with Deedee has been a delight. She's so creative and so professional, and the people who work with her are so talented and well trained. It's been an absolute delight."

After the committee decided that dance and Highlands Ballet were the right choices to embody their theme, they faced the challenge of how to represent four-dimensional artwork in the two-dimensional medium of their Festival brochure and other promotional efforts.

They decided to use another two-dimensional art - photography. They photographed dancers in Festival situations, such as in an art studio or on the Virginia Creeper Trail.

They also created a music video which is available on You Tube and the Festival website. Cole created the choreography, and her company performed it at their spring dance recital. The music video features dancers from Highlands Ballet and scenes from Festival locations and easily recognizable downtown spots in Abingdon, Virginia.

"When it's creative and something that involves the whole community, it feels like we've come together to create something special," Caldwell says.

There are several dance-related programs throughout the 10 days of the Festival, including a signature dance concert. The concert is held at the McGlothlin Center for the Arts on the campus at Emory & Henry College, Emory, Virginia, Aug. 4 at 7 p.m.

Rooted in a foundation of classical training, the Highlands Ballet infuses their repertoire with contemporary and modern dance, flavored with a jazz twist. Dancers kick up their heels featuring excerpts from their original ballet, "Gershwin, By George," "Little Bird," "Echoes," and the 2017 signature art video choreography, "Can't Stop the Feeling." Highlands Ballet is joined by the Appalachian Center for Ballet, Grace Studio of Motion and Dance and Xtreme Dance Company. Tickets are $10 for adults; $5 for students.

Founded in 1994, Highlands Ballet and its feeder school, the Highlands Center for Ballet Arts, offers training in classical ballet, contemporary dance, modern, jazz and kindermusik. Developing healthy bodies, positive self-esteem and promoting goodwill to all is the primary focus of Highlands Ballet and their faculty.

The Appalachian Center for Ballet performs excerpts from their full-length ballet production of "Snow White and The Seven Dwarves." Established in 1980 by Erica Becher Dye with locations in Abingdon, Honaker and Lebanon, Virginia, the studio offers classes in classical ballet for dancers beginning at age 3. Dye earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in ballet from Virginia Intermont College and completed her graduate work at Adelphi University in New York. Originally from New York, she began her ballet training with the Andre Eglevsky School of Ballet and The American Ballet Theatre School in New York City.

Grace Studio of Motion and Dance opened in 2011 and is owned and directed by April Grace, a native of Abingdon. Grace earned her bachelor's degree in dance from Radford University and has been sharing her love of dance ever since. GSMD offers ballet, jazz, modern, lyrical, hip-hop and tap. Their goal is to help students understand and appreciate dance as an art, while giving them confidence in their everyday lives. They believe that it is never too late to learn to dance and offer a welcoming atmosphere for all levels. GSMD also offers opportunities for competition dancers.

Xtreme Dance Company is a fully-equipped and dynamic dance studio located in Bristol, Virginia. From rustic to urban – whatever suits your style – diversity is important to XDC. They offer classes in ballet, clogging, hip-hop, contemporary, lyrical, jazz and acrobatics for ages 4 and up, and Tumbling Toddlers for 2-3 year olds.

"We get to be artistic Switzerland, and the umbrella under which all of our local arts organizations can come together and collaborate. That's why we brought in our other dance companies for the Kick up your Heels concert, which showcases how dance is a part of all of our lives," Caldwell says.

The Festival is also celebrating dance by participating in National Dance Day, July 29.

National Dance Day is spearheaded by the Dizzy Feet Foundation. This annual celebration dedicated to dance encourages Americans of all ages to incorporate dance into their lives. Dizzy Feet Foundation believes that participation in dance connects the mind and body, promotes health and wellbeing, connects us with others and enables us to find joy through dance and movement.

The foundation helps make participating in National Dance Day accessible by providing an instructional video online to help people learn the routine. There is also an adapted routine for those who may need to make modifications to the main routine due to physical limitations.

The intention is for people to learn the routine and perform it. The Festival will work with Highlands Ballet and Grace Studio of Motion and Dance and other locations to teach the dance live. "We'll have two flash mobs to perform the dance: one in front of the Barter fountain and one in front of the Farmers' Market. We'll record it and submit a video to the Dizzy Feet Foundation. If they like it, they'll post it on their You Tube channel and on the "Step Up Series' channel," Caldwell says.

"We really want people to feel like anybody can come out and participate in National Dance Day. Dance is for everyone, not just the super skinny, super fit; anybody can do it and anybody can enjoy dancing. We want all shapes, sizes and abilities to join us on the day," Caldwell says.

The Festival includes other dance-related activities. B. G. Goliday teaches salsa dance lessons on the Barter Green, Aug. 1 and 2 at 12:30 p.m. The Festival is also working with the Community Center of Abingdon to present a contra dance night. It's held Aug. 5 at 7 p.m. The dance is free, but donations are requested to benefit Meals on Wheels.

The final dance event of the Festival is Sunday, Aug. 6 at 3 p.m. The Johnson City Symphony Quartet performs tango music at Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church. The concert is $10.

The Virginia Highlands Festival runs from July 28 through Aug. 6.

THERE'S MORE: Contra dancers gather in Jonesborough for fun