By Lisa Shrewsberry
Music and movement — it takes the two … to tango, tap, twirl or tutu. School of Harmony Inc. in Beaver had the music part down pat. Over the last five years, the school has grown to in excess of 250 music students, learning everything from piano to clarinet. The instructors are set to go mobile, converting the old Raleigh County Public Library Bookmobile into a Music Mobile, a traveling classroom for teaching underserved students in rural areas. But amid the progress, there was something missing…
“We have always wanted dance, but in order for it to be a success within our current program, it had to be the right instructor,” explains CEO Charles Lee Hicks. That someone was Laura Adkins. Determined to let 5-year-olds be 5-year-olds, not 25-year-olds as television dance competitions portray, Hicks was led to Adkins, who shared the same motives of teaching technique and integrity.
The wife of a youth minister, she came “very highly recommended and, much to her surprise, she had a large following.”
Opening in August 2012 “just to see what would happen” SOH’s Harmony in Motion dance program finds itself not quite a year later with a waiting list of students eager for tap, jazz and ballet the way Miss Laura teaches them. Now, the school’s administration has decided, it’s time to start another renovation project and to activate the list.
“We have 100 students for dance. We want to double enrollment,” Hicks states. His plan? To develop another dance studio within the sprawling space of the former Shady Spring High School, what has since become 15 fully functional music studios in one building, including four in “String Town” — a wing dedicated to the instruction of stringed instruments.
To fund an additional dance studio and to invite those unfamiliar with the goings-on at School of Harmony to take a peek, the school is hosting a Dance-A-Thon Friday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. — an evening where students dance their little hearts out for donations and pledges for support.
Attendees and supporters can expect family favorites, the chicken-dance and Y-M-C-A among others, along with the children’s most popular class dances. Regardless of how much money is raised, plans are moving forward on what Hicks and Adkins both say is faith.
The addition comes as a welcome sign of continued growth after the mixed signals sent out with the recent closing of Harmony Café within the complex. The closing has been understandably misinterpreted by some, admits Hicks.
“We had always wanted a place where the parents could come and eat or have something to drink while waiting on their children, which we have with Coffee Beans and Books. We never meant to have a full-service restaurant.”
The Café will still rent as space for individual and corporate events and the much-applauded cuisine of Kay Lilly will be available for catering, but the decision to close for regular lunch and dinner was in the best interest of the school.
“Some people would come in to eat and not even know there was a fine arts school here. This was always meant to be a school first,” states Hicks.
The school will also add student spotlight nights, mystery dinner theaters and other shows with the café and stage space available to them. The space has also been newly enhanced by a sound and projection system funded by Beckley Area Foundation.
Now that the school is out of the restaurant business and has a full and focused music, dance and arts program, it is featuring a number of dance camps for children throughout the summer, including a Disney Princess Dance Camp, Dance Around the World Camp and a musical theater dance camp production of Annie.
“I am amazed every day that we even do what we do, and I know it’s God’s grace,” says Hicks, who maintains high standards for instruction and performance within the school’s programming.
When a music publisher sent sheet music to his retail music store that had questionable lyrics by a teen pop sensation, Hicks sent them back with his strongly worded disapproval.
“You have to stand for something,” he says. “When we said ‘we will not have these types of books in our school,’ the distributor went back to the publisher and got the words changed in the sheet music.”
Dance instructor Adkins, aside from sharing Hick’s conviction for how dance and music should be taught, equally shares his enthusiasm for instilling generations with the gifts of music and movement.
Adkins has danced her whole life — in private studios as a youth, continuing dance with classes at Marshall University, where she majored in elementary education and after graduation as she moved to Rock Hill, SC to teach in an arts integrated elementary school.
“I was invited to develop a curriculum there called ‘remediation through movement.’ It helped kids learn academic skills through creative movement and dance.”
Adkins also enjoyed the opportunity to teach free dance lessons to low income children.
“I never planned on dance being my career, but it got a hold on me and never let me go,” she explains. “It has been very rewarding.”
When Adkins’ husband, Cliff, was called into ministry at The Place, United Methodist Temple, Beckley, she secured a part-time teaching position at Stanaford Elementary, leading a program of dance integration funded by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.
Now, with her Harmony in Motion classes full and new classes waiting, the instructor is happy to have the opportunity to expand in space and staffing.
“When we do the renovations and allow more kids to have lessons, we’ll also be adding another experienced instructor.”
The money raised by the school at the Dance-A-Thon and over the coming months will be used for the studio renovation and the general expansion of the program. Donations to the program are tax deductible, as School of Harmony is recognized as a 501c3 non-profit organization.
Renovations are expected to be complete by Sept. 3, when a new schedule of dance classes begins. The school offers tap, ballet, jazz and pointe (for older girls).
“Our expansions will also allow us to offer tumbling for dance and a boy’s tap program in the fall,” states Adkins.
For more information, visit www.schoolofharmony.com or call 304-253-3095.
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