OUTRIGHT DANCE THEATRE
Connie Whitley often dreams she is dancing. Those dreams started during one of her stays in a nursing home while she was paralyzed. Now, with the help of her wheelchair and a new dance company, the Rapid City woman has realized her dream.
Outright Dance Theatre was started by Andrea Schaefer of Rapid City, who describes it as a mixed-ability dance group for people of all ages. The dancers attend various dance studios in town, including Schaefer’s own studio, Barefoot Dance Studios.
The audition-based ensemble, which began last fall, will perform its first production, “Winter Bloom,” at 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14, at Central High School’s theater. “Winter Bloom” is a collection of original vignettes of duets and trios that Schaefer choreographed.
Whitley will dance in one piece that is a combination of two duets based on the theme “best friends.” She and her best friend, Nancy Weiss of Rapid City, will perform in their wheelchairs. The other duet features 9-year-old best friends Autumn Knight and Ella Trithart, both of Rapid City. Both girls take lessons from Schaefer at her studio.
Whitley worked with Schaefer on an original production called “Flutter,” which was produced by Black Hills Community Theatre and Black Hills Workshop. Whitley was born with cerebral palsy and did not learn to walk until she was 13 years old. She said she loves having the opportunity to dance.
“Andrea helps my body to feel dancing,” Whitley said at Sunday night’s rehearsal.
Heather Pickering, who was invited to direct a theater piece of “Winter Bloom,” teaches at Central and Stevens high schools. Pickering was part of a small group of people who discussed creating a theatrical partnership with Black Hills Workshop, which helped open the door for the new dance company.
“Andrea’s truly passionate about this project,” Pickering said. “This entire program truly is Andrea’s brainchild.”
Mary Ann Blanchard, an instructor at Black Hills Workshop’s Suzie Cappa Arts Center, said the dance company gives members a sense of pride and a source of exercise.
“I think it’s amazing. You can see how much people are loving it. It’s an opportunity some of the participants have not had before. This has become a wonderful place,” she said.
Schaefer earned a degree in dance from the University of New Mexico. She was exposed to a mixed-ability dance company while attending school in Albuquerque. She would like to one day form a sort of sistership with that company and have members from both companies visit each others’ cities.
Schaefer said she dances for Dakota Dance Company and is still listed as an active member of a company in Albuquerque. She teaches classes and choreographs. She said she would like to do more outreach work and also perform at schools. As far as her own dancing, she said there isn’t much time for that right now.
In September, Schaefer moved her Barefoot Dance Studios to a new handicapped-accessible location, 412 Fifth St., next to Bully Blends. She hopes the move and the new dance company will one day allow her to offer mixed-ability dance classes.
“I didn’t feel I had enough structure and enough education to teach actual classes,” she said.
A dance company allows her to set the choreography and work around what people bring to the table.
As an example, she said Shad Bebout of Rapid City, who is in a wheelchair, has limited mobility but great control over his chair. She paired Bebout with Adante Carter, a junior at Stevens High School, for a routine set to grunge rock music in which Bebout pulls Carter along on a sheet. When Carter performs dance moves and back flips, Bebout does his own graceful movements in his chair.
Carter, who is involved in theater at Stevens, said he joined the company for the experience and as a way to try new things.
“And I like the idea of a mixed-ability company,” Carter said. He worked with Schaefer on Black Hills Community Theatre’s production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” which Schaefer choreographed.
“She is fantastic,” he said. “I think she is one of the best.”
Schaefer said Outright Dance Theatre is open to anybody in the community, regardless of any physical or mental challenges.