'Our community is built on volunteers,' says Ballet Club co-founder

Mar 31, 2017

The Bristol Bay 4-H Ballet Club will hold their third annual recital Saturday. For three years, volunteers have rallied to teach eager area youth the art of dance.

Credit Avery Lill/ KDLG

As the state's fiscal crisis cuts into school districts' budgets, money for activities, arts, and sports is getting lean. For three years, a small group of volunteer instructors has been keeping a large group of young dancers pirouetting, arabesquing, and fouetté-ing on a shoestring budget. KDLG's Avery Lill dipped in one the dress reheasal of the Bristol Bay 4-H Ballet Club spring recital Thursday to learn more.  

Credit Sarah Grace Durrance

In the Dillingham elementary school gym, a dozen young girls join hands and run in a circle. In the center, the one boy in the Bristol Bay 4-H Ballet Club crouches. Then he springs, sticks out his tongue and reaches his hands high. It’s a Mexican hat dance, and this is the tech rehearsal for the class’s annual recital. In the real performances, the girls will wear long skirts, and August Reigh, the boy in the center, will wear a large sombrero.

The recital’s theme is “Around the World.” The program includes dances from as far away as India and Ireland and a Yup’ik song from closer to home.

The dancers giggle, turn one-handed cartwheels and spin in circles, arms outstretched, as they wait for their teachers to make decisions about lighting and stage choreography. Eight-year-old Reigh explains the energy among the dancers.

“I’m really kind of scared and really psyched about it,” he says, taking a deep breath. “And I really, really am looking forward to it.”

Credit Sarah Grace Durrance

Arwen Gaddis, Tina Reigh and Susie Jenkins-Brito started the club three years ago. Jenkins-Brito says that it grew out of a passion for dance that they all share.

“I grew up dancing ballet. I danced for going on more than 13 years.” says Jenkins-Brito. “Tina grew up dancing her whole young adult life and her childhood. A couple years ago, a gal named Arwen lived here too, and she was also a lifelong dancer. So the three of us got together and started the Bristol Bay 4-H Ballet Club.”

Dancers surf a "Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride."
Credit Avery Lill/ KDLG

The club has developed and changed over the years. They’ve added teachers, grown the program to 24 students, gained equipment, and incorporated more styles of dance. One of the most important moves they made from an organizational standpoint, says Jenkins-Brito, was to become a 4-H charter after their first year.

“And 4-H had a lot to offer us as far as funding. Then we were allowed to also collect tuition from students, which helped to fund recital costs. We were able to get some pretty fantastic costumes, some ballet mats for them to dance on, and supplies to build barres, so being a 4-H club has been really good for us.”

All of the teachers are volunteers, and donate their time. It’s a model she thinks is important given the economic climate in the state.

“Our community is built on volunteers,” she says. “If we have deep budget cuts within our school board, and with our state economy I can’t imagine that we’re not going to and that we’re not going to feel the hurt from that, I encourage people if you have something you want to share or if you just have a love of being with kids, start a club. It’s fun. We’re going to need it.”

And fun is what’s on the mind of these dancers as they practice grands jetés, piqué turns, and tendus in class, and Irish, Polynesian, and Bollywood-style dancing for their Saturday performance.

Contact the author at avery@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.

Credit Avery Lill/ KDLG

Credit Avery Lill/ KDLG

Credit Avery Lill/ KDLG