Located at 10e Street, opposite Bohemia Park, is a studio where young people of all ages learn various forms of modern dance. On Friday evening (June 24) and Saturday morning (June 25) last week, spectators witnessed the accumulation of hard work that local dancers and teachers had invested in their craft.
While the South Lane Ballet Academy has held its June recitals at Lane Community College (LCC) in the past, last week’s production marked the second year in a row that Bohemia Park was the host venue.
Mandy Conforth is an academy trustee and principal of South Lane Ballet Academy. “We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit dance studio,” she told the Sentinel. “We teach children from 3 to 18 years old ballet, jazz, modern dance, hip-hop and contemporary dance. We have around 100 students and are open seven days a week for classes.
Conforth spoke about what it was like for the ballet academy to put on a production at Bohemia Park. “Although it’s super fun, it’s really difficult. Barely in place, we have to build a stage, and dressing rooms; we need to bring a camp trailer, security and bathrooms. Keeping the kids safe can be a bit difficult being in such an open area,” she said.
Over the years, the recital has grown enough with increased student participation that it now takes place over two separate days.
“We split the show in two [recitals] because otherwise our backstage is chaos,” Conforth continued. “As a rule, we mount two productions a year. At Christmas, we put on a short and sweet version of Nutcracker which we hold inside our studio space which is a very intimate small group. Then, once a year, we do a spring production which is thematic in a way. This year we did a book theme.
The dancers interpreted the themes of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, treasure island, Harry Potter, How to train your dragon, etc. The Friday evening recital featured the middle-aged and senior dancers. For the Saturday morning show, the upper level dancers again and the younger dancers showed their skills.
Conforth said she took over the dance studio that houses the South Lane Ballet Academy around twelve years ago, but had had a passion for dance most of her life. At only three years old, she began her dancing career by learning ballet and tap dancing.
“My parents were ballroom dancers,” Conforth explained, “and when I was 15, my mom said to me, ‘What do you want to do with your life? and I said I wanted to have a dance studio in Cottage Grove because dance studios move in and out in a year. Someone else actually started this dance studio. We were an offshoot of Eugene Ballet… It had only been around for about a year before that. Now, twelve years later, we’ve had a great show every year.
While teaching students the art of dance is an added passion of the ballet academy director, she said she also sees the impact her role has had in the lives of her students: I love children; they are amazing. They are inspiring. They can also be difficult. Especially over the past couple of years, they’ve had their own challenges…emotional challenges and family challenges. Our studio is not a place where you just drop your child off and pick them up; there’s this relationship that we all have… It’s hard to come home at night and not think about who’s going through a tough time.
Advance tickets for the June 24 and 25 recitals were $12; at the door they were $15 (these are the same prices the academy charged for tickets on the LCC website). The dancers gave a spectacular performance.
“The cost is $7,000 to put on production. To earn money to pay for this, we sell tickets; then the excess goes to scholarships. We give thousands each year in scholarships. We have to put on the show for our students to get this scholarship to continue [with their education]said Conforth.
The recital had an almost full house in Bohemia Park on Friday evening, and Saturday morning was almost equally full. However, things did not go smoothly. Unfortunately, while performing at an outdoor facility like Bohemia Park brings many great experiences, it also comes with its own set of challenges: extreme weather conditions and fighting vandals are among them.
With the weather projected in a 90-degree range for both days of the recital, the studio took what it learned from its 2021 production when it was 110 degrees and applied it to this year.
Says Conforth, “Most of our higher level dancers have good stamina. We work with them in the studio for hours, so they’re used to a bit of heat, but we usually have air conditioning. What we did this time around was work with them a bit on the outside. We also had water coolers, cold towels and fans in every room.
And as for the vandals, “Unfortunately we had people who entered the [outdoor production] spacing and damaging things, throwing things on the floor, wiping pizza all over the floor where we were working and even burning holes in an awning,” Conforth said.
Event security had to chase several people from the site as they kept returning each night the view was in use.
“As a non-profit organization, it was a challenge to set up such a production locally because there is no venue designed for large events. The cost is astronomical to set it up from from zero. Unfortunately, the cost in time and money goes up when people don’t set boundaries. But even through the hardships of the weekend, the dancers put on a great show,” Conforth added.
South Lane Ballet Academy hires people from all over Oregon, Washington and California to come and teach, and everyone involved in the studio plans to continue working with children in the future. Registration for fall courses begins in August. In July, the academy will host several camps for the youngest. Additional camps for older children take place in August. For more information on these and other events, people can visit the South Lane Ballet Academy Facebook page.
“I love children. The families are amazing, the kids are amazing, but it’s also a tough part. You are so ingrained in their life, and they are so ingrained in yours that when something happens to them, it happens to you. When they struggle, or mom or dad lose their job, you feel it too. They are amazing. It’s an amazing group of people.