NORTH BEND — College representatives typically don’t talk about pushing off from the balls of your feet and “ronds de jambe” — but most reps are not dancers.
The University of Oregon Repertory Dance Company settled in at North Bend High last week, giving students an inside look at university life and the dance world.
With the help of UO and North Bend alumna Sara Slack, the dance company first made its way to the South Coast in 2008. The dancers have returned every year since.
“Release all that tension, any worries you have,” UO dance major Kyra Bannister told her class Friday afternoon.
Last week, the dancers performed for Hillcrest Elementary and North Bend Middle School. On top of that, they taught three classes a day for three days at the high school. On Saturday, the public was able to take classes and watch the dancers perform.
“We want to give the university dancers an opportunity to participate in something similar to what might happen if they were in a professional touring dance company,” said Jenifer Craig, chair of UO’s dance department.
“This residency is about so much more than just dance,” Slack said. “Dance is so much more than the physical thing we see on stage. Dance is so all-encompassing — culture, history, science, social activism — it is difficult for me to articulate the possibilities that lie within an education in dance.”
Where some students don’t see a clear path to college, the dance company shows them a way in. UO dancers don’t only teach classes during their residency in North Bend — they talk to students about university life in general and other fields of study.
“Our students and our community have very little access to arts outside of our area, often due to financial limitations and also due to our relatively remote location,” Slack said.
North Bend High has had a dance program since 1955, a luxury unheard of in most schools, let alone rural ones.
“It teaches them to think about dance outside of this place,” North Bend High dance director Kathy Morin said of the residency. “They can see what they could achieve outside of this school.”
Rachel Matthews was a North Bend freshman with years of dance experience at Coos Bay’s Pacific School of Dance when the UO dancers made their first stop at her school. She was transfixed.
Matthews graduated in 2011; now, she’s a UO math major and dance minor. And she’s a member of the same dance company that wowed her three years ago.
“It’s a weird feeling, like I’m somewhat of a celebrity coming back,” she said.
Dancing is in her blood. Her mother, Mary Matthews, took over North Bend High’s dance program from founder Betty Larsen in 1991. Students adored her and she fought for the dance program’s survival. Sadly, Mary died in 2005 after a long battle with breast cancer.
Rachel is a firecracker when she dances. On Friday, she flew across the floor in her giraffe-printed socks, her long limbs making strong, clean lines.
“Dance was really a big part of my family values growing up,” she said. “I felt the need to continue on. It’s a big part of how I express myself.”
The UO dancers have performed at Hales Center for the Performing Arts four out of the last seven years, but it’s expensive and turnout is typically low. Slack said fundraising and grant-writing begins now to get the dancers on stage next year.
“On top of what the physical nature of the art form is, it really does provide a whole other basis for learning how to learn,” Craig said. “It teaches perseverance, dedication, finding ways to be creative.”
UO dance major Megan Duling said the company shows dance’s broad range.
“It’s showing them there’s more to life than 16 pirouettes and lifting your leg past your head,” she said. “This shows them you can be an art major. You don’t have to be a business or a math major. This is showing them that dance is practical.”