More than 40 years after its founding, the Gretchen Greene School of Dance continues to elevate Savannah's dance students and enthusiasts with a variety of programs, classes and shows.
At 7 p.m. Jan. 11 in the Lucas Theatre for the Arts, the school's company dancers will bring their year of polished performances to the stage accompanied by professionally edited music, eye-popping costumes and lush lighting.
When Radio City Rockette Gretchen Greene returned home to Savannah from New York in 1968, it wasn't to take a breather from the big city. She had a vision for her beloved Hostess City. One that would require blood, sweat and tears to leverage her superb experience and skill to improve Savannah's dance culture.
"Eventually my brother, Travis, and I both stepped into the family business and watched it grow into the institution it is today," says Trina Dodd, director. "With every generation of students that passes, our roots grow deeper and deeper into the community. Not only are we training technically sound dancers, we're making sure they're exposed to the very best and brightest minds in the contemporary dance world."
Students at the Gretchen Greene School of Dance quickly learn that moving with grace and living with grace are well-coordinated partners.
"Dance is a constant," Dodd says. "We've seen generation after generation come to the Gretchen Greene School of Dance to give their children balance, strength, teamwork, dedication and more. Yes, we love to go out into our community and perform for them in theaters, schools and nursing homes, but more than that, I think we've become an indispensable part of people's child-rearing traditions."
Gretchen Greene's legacy not only develops technically skilled dancers, but prepares them for adulthood. The school aims to impart "portable" core values that serve students wherever they choose to go in life - those of dedication, discipline, grace and cooperation.
While classes are available for children of all skill levels, from 3 years of age through high school, company dancers undergo a vigorous audition process meant to provide a taste of the professional dance world. The majority are 3rd-12th graders, and the youngest company dancer is just 7 years old.
"We don't always start that young, but this one had a twinkle in her eye that you just have to see to believe," Dodd proudly notes.
Practice hours for company dancers average 10 hours per week. A large part of their performances take place in dance competitions all over the country, where they attend master classes from world-class instructors and hone their performance technique in front of professionally trained judges.
As for the showcase, a year's worth of crowd-pleasing routines and romps are culled from past performances. Choreography credits for the show are distributed among renowned artists from around the nation.
"For contemporary jazz, we've got Caitlyn Grey from the Broadway Dance Center in New York City, Chad McCall from Los Angeles and part-time Savannahian Wendy Denney (of Savannah Sweet Tease fame)," Dodd says. "For tap, we've got the super talented Nora Clark, who's now doing her thing in New Orleans. And for ballet, we have local legend Karen Burns."
"Not only that, but we've got students who have been studying the art of choreography, and they'll get a chance to put their own work on stage.
"We also have a piece that isn't choreographed at all! There will be an entirely improvised piece on stage for the first time this year."
What sort of surprises can one expect from this company showcase?
"Well, not to give too much away, but we've got a little piece called 'The Evolution of Dance' that's a super-fun mash-up of popular dances," Dodd says. "Maybe we can get the audience dancing in the aisles on that one!"