By Marjorie Dana
A well-behaved schnoodle named Zoe may be the first thing you see upon entering Cornelius’s Turning Pointe Music & Dance Center on Liverpool Parkway, but don’t be fooled by the center’s beloved furry mascot: Serious artistic education is happening within.
Turning Pointe celebrated its one-year anniversary on Aug. 16 with a day of free classes and demonstrations of things like choreography and lyra, an aerial art the center hopes to offer.
During the first year open, about 100 students of all ages studied dance and music there, at classes ranging from pre-professional ballet on pointe to pilates for adults. Dance classes are offered recreationally for those not interested in the professional route.
Center owner and artistic director Jennifer Phelps has over 20 years of performance experience herself, in dance, music, and acting, including opera. Phelps has a B.A. in Music and Performance from Ithaca College Conservatory in New York. She was ballet mistress for 10 years at POPS Performing Arts Academy. Phelps considers herself “retired hard” from performing, meaning she does not plan to return to performance. Her role now, she said, is to engage her students. She also considers herself “very picky” when hiring other teachers. The studio’s other teachers have all performed professionally or have degrees in the subjects they teach.
Phelps believes dance has become accessible and has been revived in the US by the dance-themed television shows that have been popular in recent years. It has gained cultural relevance and excitement.
“We’re influenced by our media, that’s just the truth,” she said.
“I think TV has been a plus and a negative… ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ ‘Dancing with the Stars’— those shows have allowed us to see different styles of dancing. On the minus side, they make it look easy. I think ballet has an uphill battle but it has lasted forever. Because ballet is so hard for the American body, contemporary has taken off. It’s like Pandora’s box, that style. I can pull from anywhere.”
Phelps herself started dancing ballet around age five to rebuild strength after breaking a femur in a car accident. Her cast stretched from her ribs down her legs, one to the ankle and the other to above the knee. The experience resulted in one of her legs being shorter than the other, giving her a greater understanding of biomechanics and a respect for different bodies that have contributed to her teaching.
“I’m looking to build the creative arts versus competing,” said Phelps. Turning Pointe’s teaching philosophy puts choreography and learning rote routines second, and development of technique and artistry first.
Another thing that sets her studio apart is the emphasis on conservative costumes. Phelps created many of the costumes for the recent performance of “Hansel and Gretel” at the Charles Mack Citizen Center in Mooresville, to prevent them from being too revealing. The costumes that she did not design, she embellished to make less revealing.
Open placement auditions for pre-professional dance students to join Turning Pointe’s new dance company were held this summer. More will be held later in the year. Students who are interested in auditioning can begin taking classes to prepare at any time.
Phelps said she does not know yet what the dance company will perform first, because it depends on what kind of talent joins the company.
“I like playing. I’m not going to do ‘The Nutcracker’ probably,” she said, “…I like the ones that are a little off-center, avant-garde.”
Class pricing varies based on whether a student takes classes recreationally or at the pre-professional level. At the pre-professional level, prices vary by level, which determines how many classes a student is required to take each week.
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