Student dancers grace the floor at Morton


November 23, 2014 – Carmen McCollum

Corey Boatner sees himself as another Alvin Ailey.

The 17-year-old senior who majors in dance at the Hammond Academy for the Performing Arts has a plan in place. After high school graduation, he plans to attend college and double-major in dance and business.

Like the late Ailey, the modern-dance legend who founded American Dance Theater in New York City, Boatner wants to own his own studio. Already, he is a skilled choreographer and has participated in several performances. Most recently, he was one of 10 dance students who performed with students from across the United States at the National Dance Educators Conference in Chicago.

Senior Elijah Vazquez also plans to pursue his passion for musical theater and dance. He intends to perform in theater for several years before eventually becoming a teacher.

Junior Siobhan Washington, 16, has been taking dance classes for 13 years. She also plans to double-major in dance and physical therapy and meld the two careers, both of which deal with anatomy.

These are three of the 60 students majoring in dance at the academy. In addition, the Hammond Academy of Performing Arts also offers majors in acting, technical theater, vocal music and instrumental music. The academy, housed at Morton High School, is open to students in grades nine through 12 with a grade point average of at least 2.5.

A year ago, the School City of Hammond’s Board of Trustees approved open enrollment, and students from across Northwest Indiana and the state are eligible to enroll.

Morton Principal Greg Easton said they get calls weekly from students and parents in surrounding school districts. The only other local school that offers performing arts is the Wirt-Emerson School of Visual and Performing Arts in Gary. Of the 300 students enrolled in the academy, Academy director Dan Cummins said there are about a dozen students from outside the district. Auditions are Jan. 24.

Dance teacher Kathleen Dominiak Treasure said she participated in a number of festivals and parades over the summer to let people know about Hammond’s academy.

“It’s important to get this information out in the community,” Treasure said.

“In addition to just putting on shows here, we also perform in the community and at other schools. This program offers so much to our students, and many of them don’t know all they need is to audition and have the minimum GPA,” she said.

Treasure is in her fifth year teaching at the academy. She previously taught dance at Valparaiso University and Wirt-Emerson. She teaches Pilates and was a dance student herself beginning at age 4 while growing up in Whiting.

As students arrived in class and took five minutes to change, most came back barefoot and began warm-up exercises, working on their abdomen and leg stretches. Soon after, Treasure moved them to dance exercises like flatback, leg swings and knee drops.

“A flatback means the student bends over in a table top position either to the front or diagonally,” she said.

“It helps them to work on the extension between the head and tail bone. That’s a big modern dance term, the head to tail connection. If the students can understand, even at this young age that there is a connection between the top of my head and my tailbone, and they have that sense of anatomy to what they are doing, then they are more articulate as performers and understand how to move more efficiently.”

It’s not just about dance. Treasure also works with students on dance terms, choreography and the work of theorists like Rudolf von Laban, a European pioneer in modern dance. She said modern dance began as a revolt against classical ballet.

“In ballet, they wore slippers and in modern dance, you are barefoot,” Treasure said. “Some of the students wear dance paws so they can spin better. I prefer them to use their bare feet, because it gives you better grip.

“Many of the things I’m trying to teach my students, I didn’t learn until I was in college. Technique is important, but it’s not just about technique. It’s also about dancing with heart,” she said.