Prestige Over Pageantry: Oglebay Institute Teaches the Art of Dance

Dance isn’t about pageantry or pomposity. It’s not. Trust me. No matter what you’ve been told, dance, in its rightful place, is aligned with the great human pursuit: experiencing the world and finding a way to share your unique understanding with those around you.

Dance, used as that vehicle, lays waste to the glitz and sequins for which it has sadly become known. It becomes poetry lifted into the air by the subtle, trained bodies of dancers. Here at Oglebay Institute’s School of Dance, that is the focus, to train dancers that are artists and masters of their craft. We want to take our students from nervous initiates in their first introductory course to serious students in our pre-professional program.

Keep the pageantry. Keep the sequins. We want serious dancers.

Cheryl Pompeo, the director of dance at the school, says that the difference between the OI School of Dance and some of the other studios in the Ohio Valley isn’t about being a non-profit versus a for-profit school or even about course offerings. It all starts with the philosophy and focus.dance_line_2014

“We are different in that we focus completely on technique and the art of dance, not the completion of a class or the preparation of a routine for a recital. Those things don’t always effectively make the student a better dancer. It only trains them to do a repetitive series of motions. We want dancers that are serious about setting a strong foundation of technique and learning principles and practices that lead to a lifelong love and appreciation for the art of movement and the ability to carry it over to whatever they may be called upon to do.”

Prestige is not a word we would ever attribute to ourselves, but it is what we strive for every day. We want the best teachers. We want the most serious, passionate dancers. We want to bring in the biggest names to facilitate workshops. We want to be represented in the most notable camps, programs, and summer dance intensives.

We want these things not because they make us look good. We don’t really care about that. We want those things because it means we’re providing the very best experience, training, and resources for our dancers. We’re giving them the best opportunities to pursue dance as far as they want. We give them a chance at what started, for many of them, as a dream.

So, how do we do that?

As stated above, it starts with the overall direction and focus of Oglebay Institute’s School of Dance. We want to be one of the best dance schools in the Ohio Valley if not the best option. To do that, we begin by bringing in not only the very best instructors we can find but also ones that align themselves with our mission.

OI dance instructor Kimberlee Kafana said it’s that focus that drew her to the school as both an instructor and as a training ground for her own daughter.

Guest instructor Allison DeBona of Salt Lake City’s Ballet West and a participant in the CW series, “Breaking Pointe,” center, is pictured with OI dance instructor Kim Kafana, right, and her daughter J’lyse, left. J’lyse is an OI student, a member of the OI dance company and pre-professional program and is also a year-round student at the prestigious Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School.

“You wouldn’t believe how hard it was to find a place that took teaching the technique of dance seriously while still putting it in its proper social perspective. Dance schools and programs can be vicious and focused on show. And for some people, that’s fine, but I love that those people rarely last long here at the school. It’s just something that is completely different. It’s a completely different and refreshing atmosphere.”

Arianne Wade, another instructor at the school, said she came to the school burnt out, but was completely rejuvenated to find a program that put the focus back on training dancers from beginning to pre-professional.

“First of all, the very fact that we have a pre-professional program that places dancers into nationally recognized summer dance intensives and college programs says something, and I think it’s one of the best kept secrets in the Ohio Valley dance world.

When I arrived at Oglebay Institute, I saw very little drama, a very welcoming staff, and a collection of students that were actively pursuing dance seriously and not as a way to boost their social status. They want to be the best, and sometimes, those people are the least flashy.”

Our pre-professional program at Oglebay Institute’s School of Dance was established by Pompeo in 2012 as a way to provide dancers who were considering a career in dance the opportunity to receive more individualized training.

“We love our classes, but within each of those classes, there is a wide range of skills and interest. Our pre-professional program is for the extremely focused student who aspires to be a professional dancer and is willing and excited about seeking out more intense, rigorous training. Selection to this program is something we take serious. Those who are able to be a part of it receive what I believe to be the best instruction, coaching, and access to resources available to serious dancers in Wheeling and the Ohio Valley. But then again, I’m biased.”

Along with the exclusive pre-professional program, The School of Dance also offers dance intensives and workshops for growth outside of normal class times for dancers of all skill and interest levels, independent of whether or not they are enrolled year-round in OI’s school.

OI director of dance Cheryl Pompeo, left, is pictured with guest instructor Lorraine Graves, who is a guest faculty member at the Virginia School of the Arts and master teacher at the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

“We want to foster dance. That’s it. We don’t care where you attend or study. Just come and learn with us. Let’s just all take every opportunity we have to get better at what we do,” Pompeo said.

“The nice thing about our programs is that you don’t have to travel. Some of this is a reaction to our students missing out on opportunities because of the cost of travel and lodging. We asked ourselves, ‘Why can’t we bring that same level of experience to Wheeling?'”

These opportunities include both a Summer Intensive Dance Program as well as our Four Sunday Workshop Series and various specialty workshops throughout the year. Programs feature nationally recognized dancers and master teachers. The Summer Intensive Program is for one week each summer, and the Four Sundays program is a series of one-day workshops on, yeah, you guessed it, a series of four consecutive Sundays.

Past guests for these specialty workshops and intensives include, among many others:

  • Allison DeBona: a member of Salt Lake City’s Ballet West and a participant in the CW’s unscripted series, Breaking Pointe
  • Yoav Kaddar: associate professor of dance and director of the dance program at West Virginia University
  • Donald Laney: co-artistic director of the West Virginia Dance Company
  • Christopher Bandy: ballet master and resident choreographer at Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance in Ashville, NC; artistic director and choreographer for the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra’s production of The Nutcracker; and choreographer at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
  • Alexandra Kochis: artistic advisor at the Dance Theatre of Pennsylvania; principal dancer for the Pittsburgh Ballet Company
  • Lorraine Graves: guest faculty at the Virginia School of the Arts and master teacher at the Dance Theatre of Harlem
  • David Howard: “Teacher of the Stars”; guest teacher at the Royal Ballet, ABT, Joffrey Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, and the National Ballet of Canada
  • Luigi: “Father Jazz”; master teacher; and the creator of the Luigi Jazz Dance Technique, internationally recognized as the first formal jazz technique

I once asked Pompeo what her “pitch” was to prospective students and their families. She looked at me like I’d gone crazy.

“I don’t have a pitch. I’ve never even considered that question. We have always filled our classrooms to almost capacity simply by word of mouth and recommendations from the dancers we produce year-after-year. I feel like we’re just about to the point that if you know a serious dancer that wants to be a professional or a family that wants their child to learn proper technique without a lot of the pageantry and drama, they probably have some tie to our school. On top of that, we have the added benefit of being a part of Oglebay Institute. OI is everywhere in the arts, and our reputation as an organization speaks for itself.”