The dancers onstage at Forever Dance Alaska’s upcoming show hope to start a dialogue without saying much at all.
The Soldotna-based dance studio’s Aurora Dance Company plans to open its “Be Light, Be Love” show Friday at 7 p.m. at Kenai Central High School’s Renee C. Henderson Auditorium. The annual show focuses on a variety of issues teens and preteens face in their everyday lives, ranging from cyberbullying to getting ready to become adults and leave home.
The theme was born about a year ago, said studio owner Darcy Swanson. Some of the pieces are dark — the opening number addresses tragedies worldwide, including footage of glaciers calving and violence in Aleppo, Syria. In contrast, the dancers will have light elements as well, bringing hope back into heavy topics, she said.
“It’s (asking) the question of, ‘Where has the love gone?’” she said. “Only through light can we come together and solve some of the world’s problems.”
Though she had the idea for the show before the divisive U.S. presidential election in November 2016, Swanson said the bitter debates and divisions proved the theme. The show stays out of making political statements, though one of the images during the opening number touches on the ongoing issue of violence between black communities and police officers, she said.
“All of my staff, politically, we’re all on complete different sides of the aisle, but we all can connect with hate … and we all can agree that love is the answer,” she said. “… It’s just been a really good experience for (the kids) to be able to make a statement in their own way through dance.”
In writing and choreographing the pieces, she and the teachers tried to consider what issues the students were facing. A major one was the seeming omnipresence of social media, especially through phones, and its superficiality. The hip-hop teacher took the theme and ran with it, setting a dance to a spoken-word piece about young people missing out on real-life experiences because they are lost in social media, Swanson said.
Another topic was bullying, which the teachers soon learned was more than a hypothetical issue for some students, she said. During the practices, some of the students came forward and talked about the bullying they had experienced at school, and the whole class was able to talk about the issue openly, she said.
“It was pretty amazing,” she said. “We’ve been able to start conversations (among) our dancers with each other. For them to be able to have that outlet, that form of expression, that’s been really cathartic for them.”
The last year has been full of change for the Forever Dance Alaska studio. At the end of 2015, longtime studio owner Vergine Hedberg retired, and Swanson and her husband bought the studio to keep everything running — classes, teachers and all. The teachers leaped in and planned three shows last year, which can be challenging, but was rewarding, Swanson said.
“Change is always a challenge for people some times, and we faced those challenges as best we could,” she said. “If anything, it’s brought us all together closer, and our dancers that are with us are definitely closer. They can see what we have with our studio, and they can see what they have with the quality of their teachers.”
Though its main focus is its pre-professional dancing groups, which prepare young dancers to further pursue the sport, the studio’s also been branching out to include other groups. Last year, the studio hosted a fundraiser for Hope Community Resources, a nonprofit serving the mentally disabled and elderly, with a 12-hour open studio with dance classes every hour on the hour. That went so well they’re planning to host it again this year, she said.
Swanson said other students also participate more casually, and she wants to include them just as much. The studio is also home to a group of community classes, including older dancers, and she said she wants to see that grow further.
“It’s just really trying to open the door to the benefits of dance for people,” she said. “Everything from our 3-year-olds learning the basics of dance and rhythm … but also it can be beneficial for older folks too.”
Forever Dance Alaska’s “Be Light, Be Love” show opens Friday at 7 p.m. and will show again Saturday at 7 p.m. Tickets are between $10 and $15, depending on seat location, and are available at the door.