Two years ago, it became apparent to me that Danceworks needed a youth performance company. With more than 2,000 Milwaukee city students completing Danceworks Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap (MHBT) each year, we had an abundance of talented kids. Amy Brinkman-Sustache had long wanted a youth company to support the development of the students in our studio youth classes. We found the perfect company director in our faculty, Faith Halaska, and we were off and running.
The audition for Danceworks Youth Performance Company (DYPC) is coming up on July 27, so I sat down with Faith to offer a little more information about the company:
Deb: Why were you interested in directing DYPC?
Faith: Because my greatest joy in life is helping to build up the next generation of artists. I find great reward in training dancers and giving them the experience of performing and being a part of something bigger than themselves.
Deb: What do you see happening to these kids as they get more involved?
Faith: There’s a transformation—not only in their technical ability, but in their self-confidence and self-discipline. I feel like I have the privilege of watching them become who they’re meant to be—not just as dancers but as individuals.
Deb: Where do the students who audition come from?
Faith: They come from all over the Milwaukee area and beyond. Some of the kids’ experience comes from dance teams, cheerleading, Hip Hop crews, Milwaukee Ballet, gymnastics and, of course, Danceworks studio classes and programs . The first year we held auditions, about 40% of the students came from MHBT; the second year was about 60%. These are kids who come together with one common goal: they are interested in pursuing the art of dance in a more intense training environment.
Deb: And how did all the different backgrounds work together?
Faith: They did great! It’s surprising to see how much they improve in one year. We also offer apprenticeships for the students who show great potential at the audition but need a little more experience. Apprentices attend the same classes as company members, but until they are moved up to the full company they do fewer performances and understudy.
Deb: What does the DYPC performance season look like?
Faith: DYPC typically takes on 25 performances a year. These include performances from Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival to Brew City Bruisers halftime shows; Lakefront Festival of the Arts to UPAF events. They also do a full-length production annually called Gingerbread Express, which is our holiday show.
Deb: Can you give us an idea of what their training includes?
Faith: This season we will be offering opportunities to a broader range of ages and experience levels by expanding to two companies — junior and senior. Junior company dancers have approximately two hours of weekly rehearsals and a minimum of two technique classes of differing genres from our studio offerings. Average weekly involvement is approximately five hours, excluding performances. Senior company members have the same requirements with an additional hour of weekly rehearsal.
Deb: How is a dancer’s performance in the company evaluated?
Faith: Company dancers sign a contract; if it is broken in any way they must have an individual meeting with me and their parent/guardian(s). Their reviews are based on their contract as well as on academic requirements. They have to submit their report cards to me twice a year. Attendance, promptness, being prepared, clear communication, work ethic in rehearsals and classes, and being a positive representative of Danceworks and DYPC are all evaluated. I also get reviews on their development from their Danceworks instructors. The apprentices also have defined review dates which enable them to move up when they are ready.
Deb: If a student wants to audition on July 27, what does he or she need to do?
Faith: Complete the registration form by Monday, July 22. The form is on our website, (link to DYPC here) as well as all the essential information. All who register will get a follow-up email from me next week.
For all of you interested in auditioning for Danceworks Youth Performance Company, I’m sending my very best wishes for a fun and enriching experience. Danceworks is here to help you become the dancer you dream to be! –Deb Farris