The Dedicated Kids of DYPC

Faith Halaska, Director of Danceworks Youth Performance Company
Faith Halaska, Director of Danceworks Youth Performance Company

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.

DYPC performing at Bastilles Days
DYPC performing at Bastilles Days

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.

DYPC 2012-13
DYPC 2012-13

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

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“It was the best day of my life!” –MHBT Student

There are two beautiful bouquets sitting on our conference table. Energy snacks and drinks are in the refrigerator. Family and friends know this is a crazy week at Danceworks as we’re days away from the 7th annual Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap Competition at BMO Harris Bradley Center.

Entering the BMO Harris Bradley Center Bowl Photo credit:   Mark Frohna
Entering the BMO Harris Bradley Center Bowl
Photo credit: Mark Frohna

They have sent these gifts to keep us smiling—and we are.

We have a lot of great memories… How about Debbie Payden volunteering to project manage the program our first year?! I honestly don’t know how we would have done it without her. Her church even sent along hams to feed the kids! Her daughter Rachel Payden is now our full-time Outreach Director.

We’re always looking for the perfect formula to give as many students as possible the opportunity to dance at BMO Harris Bradley Center every year. There was the time we let all those not chosen to compete dance in between the rounds of the competitors. These students were having so much fun that they would exit the bowl and run to find anyone they could grab to go out and dance with them again. It didn’t matter what school they were from—all that mattered was that they knew the dance.  When Liz Tesch, our project manager for many years, realized what was happening, she didn’t have the heart to stop them. “That’s what the program is all about,” she exclaimed.  Sheer chaos?  Possibly.  Sheer joy?  Absolutely!  Thank goodness for staff, faculty, volunteers and  community who understand this program is more about breaking down the barriers that divide people than learning perfect dance steps.  That was our longest competition in history.

Watching their team on the Jumbotron
Watching their team on the Jumbotron
Photo credit: Mark Frohna

We’ve made mistakes and learned from them, while many teachers, principals, families and friends who come to watch have supported us and cheered on the students. They understand that Mad Hot offers much more than dance instruction. It’s a beacon of hope for many students and for our community.

The health of urban youth is reaching a critical point. While we don’t claim to solve these challenges, we do offer young people a chance to find joy in movement. When the program ends, many are transformed and seek outlets to continue creative expression and physical activity.  Through our MPS Partnership funding, we are able to provide scholarships to our dance classes, creative arts camps and school day off workshops for students wanting to continue on. Danceworks Youth Performance Company provides an opportunity for serious students to perform.

If you need a little hope yourself, come experience this on May 18th. Let me know if you come. I’d love to say hi. Oops, gotta go—Debbie Payden just dropped off brownies!    —Deb Farris

trophy shot smaller (2)
Winning the trophy but really they are all winners!
Photo credit: Mark Frohna

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