For those of us new to the world of dance, ballet culture can sometimes feel intimidating. Ballet is imbued with a deep and proud history, following a precise method of instruction with a strict uniform and terminology. Ballet is visually defined by technique that is as graceful as it is precise, mastered only after years of rigorous discipline. Contemporary ballet education is supported by an entire network of professional development opportunities, including classes, performances, summer intensives, and dance festivals across the country. It’s helpful to have a guide when approaching such a layered network of ballet enrichment, which is why we took a moment to chat with Cynthia Crews, Artistic Director of Lawrence Ballet Theatre, about her involvement with Regional Dance America (RDA)/Mid-States , where she serves on the Board of Directors and is the Vice President and Festival Coordinator.
Olivia: For the uninitiated, what is Regional Dance America/MidStates?
Cynthia: RDA/MidStates is one of the five regions within a national dance organization known as Regional Dance America. The Board of Directors for Regional Dance America is comprised of Board of Directors from each region called RDA Representatives. RDA/MidStates is an organization that supports and encourages pre-professional ballet companies which may not otherwise have access to a professional company experience. Being a member of RDA/MidStates has helped bolster the School of Dance ballet program in a number of ways by strengthening the technical standards of students, encouraging us to seek out high quality choreographers and works, giving opportunities to local choreographers, and allowed our dancers to work with and connect with professionals companies and universities from across the country.
Olivia: How did you become involved with Regional Dance America? Describe this journey for us.
Cynthia: Having grown up dancing in Oklahoma, I started attending RDA/SouthWest festivals at the age of twelve, as part of Tulsa Civic Ballet. I experienced first-hand the amazing classes, performances and scholarship opportunities these festivals offer. Festivals were a fun way to build camaraderie with fellow company members, some of whom are still close friends today. When I founded Lawrence Ballet Theatre (LBT) in Fall of 2010, the first thing I did was inquire about RDA/MidStates membership qualifications. I wanted our LBT dancers to have the same opportunities for friendships and for personal artistic growth that this organization gave me as a young dancer. It was an arduous evaluation process. I had to send my resume, have eight dancers in the young company, in addition to registering as a 501c non-profit organization. We submitted video of studio work to demonstrate our technical level in ballet, as well as performance footage to show that our quality of performance, costumes and choreography met the national standards set by RDA. LBT started an Intern Company with RDA, and then was promoted to Performing Company member our third year in the organization. We have attended festivals for the past six years, including previous National Festivals in Montreal and Phoenix.
Olivia: You were recently promoted to Vice President for RDA/Midstates, while continuing to serve on the regional Board of Directors. Congratulations! Can you describe your new role?
Cynthia: There is RDA/MidStates, then there is the Board of Directors for RDA/MidStates, comprised of the Artistic Directors from each Member Company of RDA/MidStates. Each Member Company is allowed one voting Representative. From this Board of Directors, officers are elected to serve on an Executive Committee to lead the organization. I was elected as Vice President for RDA/MidStates.
All member company Artistic Directors serve as the Board of Directors for RDA/MidStates. We each take on various roles concerning the basic operation of the organization. I have served on the Scholarship Committee, both as a member and as the Chair for two years where we awarded over $30,000 dollars in scholarships to our dancers. The Board of Directors also takes on the job of presenting the yearly festival since MidStates moved to a collaborative festival format in 2014. In addition to the Scholarship Committee, I have also been in charge of Registration and Gala Banquet. Recently I was voted in as Vice President/Coordinator for RDA/MidStates. As Vice President I serve to support and advise the President in her duties. As Coordinator I serve as the conduit of information between RDA/MidStates and the National board of RDA. I inform National of RDA/MidStates actions, decisions and directions and their wishes for the direction of the National organization, while I also inform RDA/MidStates of the same information from the National Board.
Olivia: What do you find satisfying about this work? What do you find most challenging?
Cynthia: My favorite part of the job is the time I spend working in the studio with the dancers. I do the administrative part of RDA because it is necessary for the function of the organization, but I do find satisfaction in creating successful festivals for all the aspiring, young dancers and the friendships I have made with other Artistic Directors, teachers, choreographers and college professors while doing this work for RDA.
Olivia: Lawrence Ballet Theatre will perform at next year’s Regional Dance America/Midstates Festival in Madison, WI. What kind of opportunity does it present to our dancers?
Cynthia: Our dancers will perform at least one piece at festival, possibly more. This is a chance to perform on a larger stage to a larger audience. They will take classes from Master Teacher from across the country. They have the opportunity to meet with college representatives and audition for various cash scholarships or tuition scholarships to summer dance programs. Last year Saskia Ferrara won a scholarship to Ballet Hispanico Choreography Lab in New York and Annie Olson won a full tuition scholarship to the Gelsey Kirkland Academy also in New York.
Olivia: Will the public get a chance to see the Lawrence Ballet Theatre pieces that are choreographed for the Festival?
Cynthia: Lawrence Ballet Theatre will perform the pieces selected for RDA/MidStates festival at our annual Emergence Performance, April 27th & 28th at 7:30 PM on the LAC Mainstage.
–Olivia Hernández, School of Dance Coordinator