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Dancing Inspires Youth and Brings Life to Community

Photo Credit: Tony Nguyen Pictured: Season 29 ADC Graduating Seniors Left to right Top: Alicia Joo, Isabelle Messner, Anna Hoeft, Sarah Yeung Bottom: May Wang, Juliet Gee

Written by Casey Hersch
July 11, 2022
This article originally appeared in the Davis Enterprise

Undoubtedly the past three years have been filled with various losses resulting from the pandemic. Whether it be socializing, live shows, or dining out, many of us lost connection to our invigorating sense of “aliveness.” We all felt shut-down to some degree on the inside as the world shut down on the outside.

Yet, despite these uncontrollable losses, an iconic Davis dance studio, Applegate Dance, still found ways to revitalize the community and redefine how to feel alive even when the world seems chaotic.

Applegate Dance Studio returned to the stage after a three-year pandemic performance break. “Alive In The Arts,” the meaningful title of their program, graced the Brunelle theater stage with dancers of all ages and abilities. The symbolism of this event shined greater than even the smiles and sparkles in the room. Simply put, no matter what life brings, you can find meaning and hope when you connect to music, movement, community and creativity.

As the lights dimmed, I expected the stage to explode with live dancers. Instead, bright prerecorded voices filled the room and set the tone for an unforgettable presentation:

Welcome…. we must admit that putting the show together amidst COVID has been a challenge. But this is a challenge we couldn’t have been any happier to take on. In many ways it has brought us even closer together as a performing group. For the dancers at Applegate Dance, dance is invigorating. It is healing, and it is nourishing to the artistic soul. Being able to dance and perform really sustains our sense of well-being and makes us feel whole again (ADC Dancers).

Lisa Applegate-Zimanyi has directed Applegate Dance Company for 29 seasons. In order to adhere to the health and safety of her dancers, she chose an unconventional performance model. Instead of one large public show, dancers participated in mini-performances for family and friends. Live performances combined with prerecorded performances and vignettes to reduce COVID risk.

“I felt so badly for these young persons whose lives as they knew it came to an abrupt halt in 2020,” Applegate said. “Instead of focusing on what we couldn’t do, I saw this as an opportunity to grow and try new experiences. Our studio is known for presenting professional quality live shows, but this year called for innovation. In the process everyone explored new ideas and dug deeper into what makes us who we are.”

Students enjoyed new opportunities such as producing a music video, filming skits, acting, choreographing and self-expressive vignettes. Most important, Applegate Dance members harnessed their adaptation skills. At various times students had to step into each other’s shoes, literally, as some of their peers left temporary gaps while recovering from COVID.

“I wanted this year’s performance to represent that we are a team, says Applegate, extensions of one another, just like our world. Our show isn’t about stars and leading roles. We are all leaders, fully capable of stepping up and accepting new roles through guidance and support.”

As a clinical social worker, dancer and community member, this year’s program had special meaning to me. The blend of live, behind the scenes and candid camera recordings captured the dancers’ well-rounded experiences. Even though we all know dance is healthy, the performances showed how being part of Applegate Dance positively affects youth development and builds lifelong resilience.

The “Alive In the Arts Program” featured diverse dance styles such as ballet, hip hop, jazz, contemporary, Irish dance and Broadway.

“Siamsa,” aka “Riverdance,” is an Applegate Dance ritual performed by students every year. Past and current company dancers teach the choreography to new dancers. Role modeling, mentoring and friendships are merely a few assets students gain from tradition and consistency.

“Aligned,” choreographed by the graduating seniors, brought raw emotion to the stage. Each senior entered the stage in the order they joined the dance company. As they moved in and out of each other’s spaces, they ended together and connected for life by this experience.

“Ocean Floor” transported the audience under the sea. The professional costumes made by Rebecca Wendlandt and Stephanie Baltz brought sea horses, crustaceans and balletic fish to life. The diversity of the ocean floor mirrored Applegate’s studio diversity as dancers from ages ten through adulthood collaborated.

While the dancers’ performances seemed effortless, this observation is a testament to the studio’s emphasis on technique, discipline and body positivity. Classes not only provide a strong technical foundation for serious dancers, but a variety of fitness, strengthening and body awareness classes also serve those who wish to improve mobility, health and wellness. After all, when you feel alive in the arts, connect to your body and feel the music, anything is truly possible.