MOSES LAKE – “Stop dancing like you’re apologizing for being here!” shouts Rian Miles, shortly before being drowned out by the opening lines of Rihanna’s “Only Girl.”
At one end of a studio at the Moses Lake Ballet Academy, Miles’ jazz dance students huddle together and form three lines.
Three by three, the students gaze at themselves in a mirror that spans the length of the studio as they practice their techniques, ensuring their arms cut straight lines in the air as they spin on the soles of their feet, or that their legs go high enough in the air as they jump.
As they bounce, jump and chase on the ground, Miles runs between them, stretching his arms, raising his legs and shouting advice, while avoiding being knocked down by the young women as they dash aside.
And, as Miles pounds them — laughing, smiling, playing, but pounding nonetheless — they not only look at each other to see their limbs reach the appropriate height or form clean lines, but they do so with grace, strength and confidence.
For Miles, who also teaches hip-hop, tap and lyrical dance styles, Wednesday nights at this time are high-level jazz technique classes, focused on improving the fundamentals of more advanced students.
Classes begin with cardio exercises, which Miles manages to do alongside the students with an extra shimmy or head bob whenever she feels the music, her jet black hair bobbing freely back and forth.
In these technique classes, students practice individual components of the dance style, such as a sustained step or a ball step. On other days, students attend rehearsal classes, which take these elements like puzzle pieces and build them into a cohesive whole.
“Smile on your face, open your heart,” Miles breathes. “You must open this chest and take it!”
Just across the wall and a few steps away, Lacy Stowers, dressed in all black like a secret agent, her blonde hair in a tight bun, wanders into the nearby studio, sizing up her troupe as they take the pose.
“It comes from the back, all the way down the shoulders and arms, and you have to hold it,” Stowers explains. “You can’t relax, because this is where it starts to look sloppy, okay?”
Ballet is particularly known for being an intense and rigorous art form, full of hard angles and straight lines, and Stowers guides students through every muscle group along their back, telling them to push forward through their pelvis to straighten their spine.
But, while Stowers’ classes are certainly regimented, that doesn’t mean she never relaxes or acts friendly with her students, laughing with them as they work through the splits or difficult technique. .
“Don’t arch your back, or it looks like you’ve got a big booty,” she warns, making a serious comment about the posture, but still expecting the laughs her comment elicited from her students.
Stowers bought the Moses Lake Ballet Academy in 2007, and although the business had been open for almost a decade before that, there was a lot of work to do to rebuild a depleted student body. For the first six years, Stowers was the only full-time teacher and, true to its name, the academy only taught ballet.
But soon after the start of the new decade, the mother of one of Stowers’ students asked if she could invite a dance buddy over to teach a jazz lesson. This dance buddy, Miles, started coming over to the West Side to give masterclasses on the weekends, where she and Stowers quickly became friends.
Although Miles eventually left for the Big Apple, where she taught a “Ready, Set, Dance!” youth program with the New York City Dance Alliance, it was not a permanent hiatus from Moses Lake. About a year later, in 2013, Stowers made her a sudden and unexpected offer.
“Then I was like, ‘Hey, why don’t you move to Moses Lake and become my business partner?'” Stowers said.
Miles, who had sworn for years to anyone who would ask him never to teach at his own studio, didn’t need to be asked twice. She jumped at the chance.
“It was as simple as that,” Stowers and Miles said in unison.
With Miles as co-owner, the academy no longer solely taught ballet, although the name of the studio then stuck. And that diversification is increasingly vital as the world of dance changes, Stowers said.
“Dancing in general has evolved tremendously since (Miles) and I were dancing. Just being a ballerina and going to a ballet company, you can’t really do that anymore. As a ballerina, you have to know how to do jazz, it must know how to do contemporary.
The course selection didn’t just diversify – in their own way, the courses of either instructor were enhanced by the presence of the other.
“We can brainstorm ideas about each other, like, ‘Hey, I’m having a really hard time teaching these girls that pirouette turn,’ and she can be like, ‘Well, have you tried doing that? ‘” Stowers said.
“You work with your best friend and your sister,” Miles said, “and that’s something we share, in terms of a love of dance, so when we talk about it or have ideas, it comes of the passion we share.”
Both women also share a passion for their students, eager to push them to reach their potential, both as dancers, but also simply as young women.
“We teach them to show up on time, to respect adults, to treat each other,” Stowers said. “You don’t sit there and knock someone down, you help each other.”
Now in their seventh year of partnership, as they have watched each other and their students improve, Stowers and Miles don’t see the business hitting a plateau anytime soon.
“There’s so much talent, it’s untouchable,” Miles said. “It’s really our seventh year together, but it’s still a baby. You still see the growth, you still see the love.