“I wanted to take a negative from this Furlough Friday thing and turn it into something positive,” she said.
When the cheerful first-grade teacher volunteered at the school’s furlough program, Kīhei Community Keiki Club—an enrichment program that provides arts, sciences and other educational activities in a safe and productive environment—she began to receive several requests for after-school dance lessons.
“That gave me the idea to start a dance program here in Kīhei—something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Erin, who taught dance for over 10 years on the East Coast. “Plus, I needed a place to dance besides my kitchen and lanai.”
Educator Erin Kowalick is dedicated to bringing quality dance instruction and performance to South Maui.
After sharing her ideas with Maui educational advocate Gene Zarro, she was invited to utilize his Kīhei Charter School (KCS) to help her get the company on its feet.
“I want to provide a performance opportunity that’s different than what’s currently available—a pre-professional dance experience, with the goal of expanding arts opportunities in South Maui,” she said.
The Charter Dance Company helps students learn auditioning skills and company etiquette, with performance opportunities including dance concerts and community events.
After holding some mock auditions, the company came together in February, and is already improving the lives of the teenage “guys and dolls” by leaps and bounds.
“You don’t have to have skills or experience to join—just the passion to learn and courage to be creative,” said Erin. “Some of my best students have no experience at all.”
The dancers are currently rehearsing pieces in modern, lyrical, jazz, hip-hop and more for their debut dance concert on Thursday, May 20, and will also perform as an opening act at the ‘Īao Theater during June’s Wailuku First Friday event. The May show will include four solos and three group dances—a jungle funk to Drum Trip, a nightclub strut to Sandstorm and a vampire-inspired piece to Eyes On Fire.
Seventeen-year-old Natasha Lobato said she looks forward to rehearsal and has learned a lot from Erin’s non-aggressive teaching style. “We definitely have fun, and we’re dancing a wide-range of pieces,” she said. “I like how there’s more of a mature feel to this show—not like a dance recital.” This soloist will perform a jazzy piece to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ cover of Stevie Wonder classic Higher Ground.
Roxi Nelson, 15, is an experienced hula dancer, but said she loves learning all the new styles. “With hula, I learned much differently, and this is challenging choreography, but it’s so cool,” she said. “It’s fun, and I still get to do what I love.” Roxi will perform a Christian hula solo called “Change My Heart.”
Other solo performances include Kahanu Mina’s “Hide ‘n’ Seek” hybrid modern, and a lyrical modern from Liz Zarro to Fiona Apple’s Sleep to Dream.
Student Gene Pua leaped at the opportunity to join the company when a few of his buddies auditioned. “They dropped out,” said 14-year-old young man. “I stuck with it and it’s been a great experience.”
Coming from a big family, Gene receives loving support of his three sisters, but has to deal with his two brothers—a Marine and an aspiring police officer. “They definitely tease me, but it doesn’t bother me, because I know how much stronger I’m getting,” he said. “Dancing’s super-athletic, and it’s harder work than when I played football.”
Watching the fresh-faced 32-year-old Erin and the talented dancers rehearse recently, I witnessed right away how considerate this “little family” was of one another as they share in this creative connection.
This company is just the beginning of a new business Erin is starting up called Kīhei Academy of Dance, which will open classes to community members of all ages and abilities this August. The academy is currently enrolling students for the 2010-2011 school year, with classes available in ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop and modern that will be held at the KCS’s Lipoa Middle School Campus. Affordable pricing, discount and incentives are available.
The “dancing dreammaker” is also accepting applicants from students aged 12 and older for the fall semester’s Charter Dance Company. Though part of the company will still be reserved for the KCS after-school program, there will also be a separate community performance company. Dancers who are placed will dance for free, as long as they are taking at least one, paid technical class during the week.
Split-leap your way to the Charter Dance Company’s dance concert on Thursday, May 20, at 6:30 p.m. at the high school auditorium of the Kīhei Charter School, located at 300 Ohukai St. This public event is free, but donations will be accepted to help build a new stage.
“Thanks to the schools and their support of the arts, dance is making its way to South Maui—and we are all very excited about this,” said Erin.