Artistic Dance Unlimited of Alcoa is a business in motion in more ways than one.
Certainly teaching dance to young people keeps both the staff and students moving.
But one particular routing performed by ADU students has moved a national organization to honor the studio with a prestigious award.
The American Autism Association has bestowed on ADU a national award for a routine danced to the song “True Colors.” Choreographer Alette Chase created the moving and inspirational dance for her Intermediate Lyrical Dance Team. With intense feeling and emotion, the team’s movements dramatized the struggle of a young boy with autism.
The award was presented last spring, according to Chase, co-owner of the studio, and has somewhat taken on a life of its own. Its popularity has spread widely through being replayed on YouTube.
“It’s gone a lot further than we could have imagined,” Chase said. “It gives people a vivid look into the lives of an autistic child and that of the child’s family.”
The routine was choreographed at ADU at the request of a student’s mother. That student also has an autistic brother, Chase said.
Chase’s partner in ADU is Ursula Margolis, who says her choreography work is intended “to have meaning behind it.”
The dancers made a special appearance to perform the routine at this year’s ASA-ETC Spring Conference in Knoxville.
After the evening performance, the dancers and instructors of ADU were presented with a 2009 “The IMPACT” on behalf of the Autism Society of America, East Tennessee Chapter.
When the company received The Impact award, it meant a lot to Chase. “That was just an incredibly touching and humbling moment to realize you had impacted other peoples’ lives and brought awareness to something as important as autism,” she said.
Chase said when they went to perform the routine, she and the dancers weren’t expecting any special recognition. “I thought I had done what was asked of me by a mother, and we performed it at an autism conference,” she said.
Then the audience gave her and the dancers a standing ovation, presented them with the award and video of the routine that ended up on the YouTube website. “It’s incredible. You don’t realize sometimes what might be insignificant to you becomes something that impacts other people,” she said.
The dance was brought to life again by the team this past May in Maryville, where they performed it during all four shows of the Artistic Dance Unlimited recital. Each show had an average of 500 in attendance.
And though the studio has moved on to other things in several different directions, “we keep that in our back pocket,” Chase said.
ADU students total 300-320, Margolis said, and that can vary based on the time of year. There is regular instruction during the school year and dance camps in the summer, and students from ADU are regularly involved in regional and national competitions.
And they win.
Chase said they start going to competitions their first year in business in 2000. “We started taking kids to smaller competitions. As our program has grown, and dancers have progressed, we have started going to a little more difficult regional competitions,” she said. “We’ve also gone to national competitions in the past and will go to a national competition this summer. We’ve actually won on the national level.”
One of the more notable competitions where they won was the Dance Educators of America competition in 2007. This past weekend members of the ADU Dance Company traveled to the NUVO Convention, and the dancers took classes all weekend from Emmy-nominated choreographers and people who choreographed for shows such as “So You Think You Can Dance, including choreographer Travis Wall. “It was an incredible experience for them. We competed in the evening. We felt that was really important - the classes were more emphasized than the competition.”
Chase said the ADU Dance Company only does four competitions annually - two in Knoxville and two events in which they travel. “We usually don’t travel more three hours away,” she said.
Both Chase and Margolis teach all forms of dance at ADU, from ballet to jazz, tap, lyrical, hip-hop and contemporary. There are five other teachers, as well.
Students’ ages range from not much beyond walking to adulthood. “We have just seen this incredible progression with our dance company. Each year, our studio grows. The longer you’re in business, the better and stronger your program becomes,” she said. “We’re seeing a difference. The kids who are our senior advanced dancers now are the ones we started with 10 years ago. This year is when we felt our dance company peaked.”
Chase said she and Margolis always stress that it is important their dancers stay active in the community. They participate in the Foothills Fall Festival, the Fantasy of Trees to benefit East Tennessee Children’s Hospital and the Maryville/Alcoa Christmas Parade. On Dec. 16 during the Christmas party at ADU, the dancers held a can food drive for the less fortunate in the community. They also held a reception to benefit the Clayton Center for the Arts. “We had over 100 people attend that here at the studio. Basically Ursala and I feel it is important for the kids to perform in their own community and to support their community,” she said.
Chase and Margolis both grew up dancing, and their lives have taken somewhat parallel paths that culminated in them partnering in ADU. Both have extensive backgrounds in dance instruction, and each determined that teaching was her future as opposed to attempting to make a living performing.
Through a decade of partnership, they have remained best friends. Both have two sons, and they are good friends.
“We are like sisters,” Margolis said, “and the boys are like brothers.”
“We go to work,” Chase said, “and love what we do.”
ADU is in its third venue, each larger than its predecessor. The current site is an 8,000-square-foot facility with four dance rooms.