By Emma Young
“I am so thrilled by the honor I was given. When you have a passion for what you are doing and someone else appreciates that, it is a fantastic feeling,” said Ann Boyle, Founder, Dance Etc School of the Arts. The Pioneer Award for Lifetime Contribution to the Arts is awarded by The Prince William County Arts Council as part of the Kathleen K. Seefeldt Awards. The Pioneer Award is not awarded annually, but as justified by extraordinary achievements and contributions to the arts, recognizing a lifetime’s body of work. “An award from your peers, all very talented people themselves, is astounding,” said Boyle.
Boyle’s passion shows at the Woodbridge-based Dance Etc. “It’s a unique environment that could be found at a professional boarding conservatory where students receive top-level training, but it’s in Woodbridge, where students can receive training normally they would only get away from home,” said Jennifer Fitzpatrick, a Dance Etc dance instructor. “I wanted to build a school that gave students professional opportunities. I wanted my school to be respected,” said Boyle.
Quality instruction is key to Dance Etc’s success. “All the dance teachers on staff have degrees in dance and professional experience,” noted Fitzpatrick. Professional-level training is offered through master classes and multiple disciplines. Dance lessons include ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary, hip hop, and others. The School of Arts embraces movement, sound, and visualization crafts in its disciplines and training, with art, dance, and music classes offered in six dance studios, two music rooms, and a large art space. “We have truly great teachers,” said Boyle.
Viewing the annual production the school holds at the Hylton Performing Arts Center, you notice another key difference to Boyle’s creation: love of the arts and each other. There is a fluidity not only amongst the students of all ages and abilities (“Our oldest student is 84 and she is amazing!” exclaimed Fitzpatrick) but amongst the art forms. It is an immersive experience of music, movement, and images that communicate emotion and pulls the viewer into city streets and fairy tale forests as various genres are highlighted. Students support each other and everyone is celebrated as the performance ends.
Nurturing each student begins with placing them in right environment. “Appropriate levels and individualized attention is very important to Dance Etc,” stated Fitzpatrick. “Unlike most studios, levels are broken down based on ability and achieving each milestone within the syllabus,” she said. For example, there are 18 ballet levels, 10 contemporary levels, 10 jazz levels, 12 tap levels, and 11 hip hop levels.
Appreciating and celebrating each student’s abilities and development affects another key business decision: Dance Etc does not participate in competitions. “Competitions are very popular, but I didn’t feel that was the road for me,” said Boyle. “I didn’t want students to think if they came in second, they are failures.” For Woodbridge resident Elizabeth Green, a long-term dance student, that makes an impact. “I was in awe of fancy performances. There is something magical seeing the girls en pointe and preparing for doing big shows. I liked the combining of sport and art, the dance moves. I didn’t want a competition,” said Green.
“They learn how to support one another, to help each other,” said Angela Wiggins of Woodbridge, whose daughter attends the school. “They are so accommodating,” said Wendy [last name withheld], whose daughter started in the middle of the year. “I’ve been so impressed. Other dance studios wouldn’t take her mid-year, but it was lifesaving for me because it is [my daughter’s] whole life,” Wendy said. “It’s an environment where parents, students, and teachers are a large family,” said Fitzpatrick.
That’s an achievement and contribution we can all celebrate.
Emma Young is a freelance writer residing in Montclair.