By Andrew Gaug
For 17 years, Marla Heeler has been teaching kids how to perform at the Dance Arts Center.
This Sunday, she will once again see the results of the hard work her students put in as they perform in the DACPAC Winter Showcase.
“I’ve literally watched them grow, some of them since they were three, and I’ll be watching one young lady in her senior performance this season. So that’s always fun and bittersweet,” said Heeler, who owns the Dance Arts Center.
The show is a kick-off of sorts as Dance Arts Center students prepare for upcoming competitions on what they’re calling the “Let There Be Rock Tour.” The students will perform their dances starting at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 23, at the Missouri Theater, 717 Edmond St.
The dances will include ballet, pointe, tap and contemporary, with performers leaning harder on jazz than past years, which Heeler found interesting.
“We’ll have a lot of jazz and tap this year for this, which I think is kind of fun for audiences ... It’s a little bit jazzier of a show,” she said.
While the show is considered a rehearsal, it provides a chance for friends and relatives of the dancers to see what they’ve been working on while offering them an opportunity to explore a big stage like the Missouri Theater.
“We have almost 20 new kids that have joined our performing company. So especially for them, it’s a great opportunity to hit the stage and perform prior to going into the competitive experiences,” Heeler said.
Compared to the previous show, one of the big differences this showcase will have is a little more independence from when dancers had to move quickly on and off the stage because of COVID-safety protocols.
While Heeler said they’re still taking the COVID-19 numbers seriously and enacting precautions, they also want to allow the kids to have a sense of creative independence and fun.
“We’re still trying to be cautious but still trying to really let kids be kids to a certain extent, letting them have their artistic freedom of expression, being able to get out of the house, being able to dance, being able to socialize and see their friends,” Heeler said.
For students who have vulnerable relatives or are feeling sick, the Dance Arts Center continues to offer virtual dance options. In a related way, Heeler said 2020’s rise of the social media app TikTok has stoked people’s love of dance, from students in her classes to strangers who have inquired about learning because of routines that have gone viral.
“We have had different TikTok workshops and camps in the past that have been really popular. The kids, they love it. And I do think it is sort of making dance maybe feel more accessible for people who thought they couldn’t do it before,” she said.
While viral dances are fun, Heeler said she reminds her students that it’s the emotions they feel and express as they dance that matter. She hopes that comes across at the showcase.
“That’s what we’re really are always trying to impart to the kids that we want you to have good technique, that’s what we strive for. But it’s the emotion that we elicit, we give off to people, we pull out of people ... That’s what draws people to dance,” she said.
The performance is free and open to the public. The Dance Arts Center is asking for a suggested $5 donation to cover the cost of renting the Missouri Theater for the showcase.