In Birmingham, you don’t have to look far to find someone on a stage performing, whether as a singer or an instrumentalist or a dancer or a comedian or poet or an actor or a professional talker or as proponents of other forms of artistic expression too numerous to recount.
Today, stages that showcase performing artists abound in this community, as do those who dare to get out on them and display their talents. But where do all these performing artists come from?
Some of them, indisputably, come from schools, including Birmingham’s own arts incubator, the Alabama School of Fine Arts.
The school’s ballet program, for example, is producing impassioned young dancers who train hard with goals to dance, to teach, and to give back. David Keener, chair of the ASFA Dance Department introduced Weld to three dancers who might one day be stars. Following is an excerpt from our conversations, with our questions in bold type.
Hannah LeComte, 17, senior, from Tuscaloosa
How did you start dancing?
My mom put me in dance class when I was three years old, and somewhere between then and now I fell in love with performing.
What do you enjoy about it?
Being stronger than I am on a regular basis and giving a show for the audience.
What have you done thus far?
When I was younger, I did competitions, but now I focus mainly on ballet and performances. I’ve been to summer intensives in Richmond, Virginia, Birmingham, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
I’ve learned a lot going to different summer intensives … I’ve learned how to be a stronger performer.
What do you want to do next?
I’m applying to colleges for ballet — to major in dance with a concentration in ballet, and after that I hope to dance professionally in a ballet company.
Any companies in particular?
Companies like Nashville Ballet, or Alabama Ballet — regional ballet companies. Atlanta Ballet.
What would you want people to know about ballet?
I enjoy ballet because I have something to work toward every day, and it gives me a foundation for not only other styles of dancing but for how to compose myself in the rest of my life. And it’s given me a lot of tools to carry out all aspects of what I do in school and other things. You learn a discipline that’s not taught elsewhere and I enjoy ballet because of that.
Isis Thomas, 16, junior, from Tuscaloosa
When did you start dancing?
I also started at a very young age. I believe it was six. So really from then, you start performing and I just decided I liked it and kept up with it, I guess.
What do you like about it?
I love giving to the audience … I just really like to step out of myself and perform for others.
I like getting feedback and their thoughts and knowing that they had an impact on the performance.
What have you done thus far?
I also have done competitions when I was younger, but now I’m trying to focus more professionally. So far I’ve been to two summer intensives, one in Tuscaloosa and one in Pittsburgh. And also just performing at ASFA.
What productions have you been in at ASFA?
We have three shows – we have our fall, spring and senior core performances that we do 3 times a year. I’ve been here since my freshman year, since the 9th grade, so just performing in those. We also do outreaches and in-reaches, and I’ve been performing in those the past three years.
Keener clarifies: If I may just intercede, what we always do is offer mixed repertory programs. We don’t do full length ballets yet. So when these kids perform, they’re usually in at least two of those rep pieces that are created among them or are pulled from standard, modern or classical repertory.
Isis: On outreach, we’ll go to different schools and perform for them to give them a feel for what ASFA’s dance department offers. This year we’ve done one so far… We’ve been on an outreach to Selma, Alabama.
It was a middle school. It was really good. It’s a really good experience and it’s really nice to see other kids’ reactions and interact with those kids from different places and different schools.
What’s the future for you?
I’ve been also looking at colleges and just getting places in mind to continue my training. And eventually, also join a ballet company and maybe teach in the future.
You like teaching?
I think so.
Keener: I’d also like to clarify a little bit the outreach aspect of what we do in the school is predominantly for educational purposes, to give kids who don’t normally have opportunities to see dance, for example, to have a glimpse which sometimes entices them to try. The in-reach does the same thing but the in-reach is a scheduled during a performance week when we’re already in the theater ready to give our public performances.
In-reach usually impacts elementary and middle school because if they do become interested in this school, they need to apply at an earlier age, like 6th grade is the youngest but the oldest is 10th… We also allow retirement home residents, etc. to come and see these events. It’s difficult for them to go out in the evenings.
Tyrone Reese, 13, eighth grade, from Mobile
How long have you been dancing?
I’ve been dancing jazz for seven years, but this is my second year of ballet.
When did you start dancing jazz?
When I was about 6 or 7.
Which one do you like the best?
Why do you like it?
It just gives me a more of a sense of focus, something that jazz couldn’t give me because most jazz nowadays are like fun, happy, jazz pieces. And ballet is more, not necessarily serious, but it gives you a sense of focus.
Is it a harder discipline than jazz?
What do you like about performing?
I just enjoy taking choreography and making it your own. Not everybody performs the same way. It’s always going to be different every night, every day… I do like the aspect that everything is going to be different each time you do it.
Is that equally true in ballet as it is in jazz?
Yeah, in my opinion it’s true for any type of dance.
What have you done so far? Where have you performed?
When I was younger, I also did competitions. And this past summer I went to Alabama Ballet. … For the most part we did ballet. But we also had choreographers who came and taught jazz, modern. … We did training but at the end of the summer intensive, we had a big performance.
What do you want to do as a dancer? Do you want to do it as a career?
Yes, sir. After I graduate ASFA I want to double major in college as a dancer and in business. So after college I could join a ballet company. And after that runs out, I could start my own dance company and teach children, like, the good times that I had.
What do you think you’d like to teach?
Every style of dance that I possibly can.
Is there anything you’d like people to know about ballet or jazz or just dance, in general?
Dancing to me is not just a sport. It’s a way of life. … You can’t do it and not give your all to it. It’s something that requires a lot of patience and discipline. So if you’re going to do it, give your all to it.