'We're Trying To Make Dance A Part Of People's Lives': The Teachers Of Lines Studio
Drew Grant has been a Vermonter for about a month. He's a professional ballet dancer who has performed and worked around the country, and on one recent morning, he taught an eclectic group of dancers: elementary and middle school-aged kids, plus one woman in her 80s.
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Grant said it can be difficult to break into Vermont's dance scene.
"The dance community here is pretty insular," he said.
Grant is 30 and first came here as a guest ballet dancer four years ago. His husband is from the area, and together, they hope to make Vermont home.
Grant is now one of the instructors at Lines Vermont, a new studio space in South Burlington that offers classes like ballet, contemporary and jazz.
The studio space is large, open and airy, with 24-foot ceilings and big windows. There are ballet barres along one wall, and 8-foot mirrors covering the other.
The floor is sprung wood, with foam cushioning—it’s called marley—a special flooring used in theaters and professional dance companies.
For as long as Grant can remember, he’s wanted to dance.
"To this day," he said, "I've never found a release as much as when I'm dancing, except in teaching dance, which has been such a wonderful discovery: that it's just as nice to impart the little bit that I know to other people."
The studio has also pulled in other young artists.
Steffi Thomas is also 30 years old, and she teaches ballet and pilates at Lines Vermont.
She’s originally from England and most recently lived and worked in Ohio. She moved here just a few months ago after retiring from professional ballet. Thomas and her husband wanted to live near the mountains—to snowboard—so they chose Vermont.
Thomas didn’t know how long it would take to find work here.
"Actually, a big concern of mine, moving here, is that I wasn't going to be able to get the same amount of hours that I did teaching back in Ohio," she said. "But there definitely seems to be a need for teachers here, because there's still a lot of dance schools here."
Thomas thinks there's a thriving young dance community here.
"It's definitely attracting a bigger dance scene," she said. "With all the other new teachers that are moving here, or ex-dancers, it's bringing in dance."
That's exactly what 38-year-old Lines Vermont co-founder Megan Stearns hoped the studio space would do.
"We're trying to make dance a part of peoples lives in a bigger way than it is right now," Stearns said.
Her goal is to bring the same level of sophistication to Vermont that she's seen at studios in Los Angeles and New York City.
"We want to see Vermont expressing a high level of quality when it comes to the arts, and there are lots of pockets of that already," Stearns said. "We want to be a connecting force for that, we want to elevate it, and make it more visible."
For Stearns to achieve her goal, she'll need to attract talented young dancers to stay or move here, such as Don Obviar. He's 29 and was born in the Philippines, where he danced professionally in contemporary ballet.
Obviar arrived in Vermont eight years ago as a student, met his husband, and then moved here permanently. He said that was a scary step to take.
"I just realized that you know what, I’m an immigrant and I’m a person of color, and I have an accent," he said. He worried people would see him differently.
"But thank God that wasn’t the case," Obviar said. "I think in general, Vermonters are very warm and welcoming, and, you know, they respect me as a human being and as an artist."
Obviar is making a living for himself by finding work at different studios around the state, and his intention is to stay.
"I feel like I'm here on a mission to elevate arts — dancing specifically — and we don’t have a lot of exposure here in Vermont," he said. "I think being an immigrant, artist immigrant, I feel like I can offer something different and unique."
Stearns, Lines Vermont's co-founder, also believes she can contribute to the arts as a young person here in the state. She hopes to raise her child here — she's pregnant — and said she wants to be able to stay here and help create a place for young dancers to thrive.
"I absolutely think we can become a leading art community here that could be an economic stimulus opportunity for the state," Stearns said.
This story is part of our series, Young At Art. Every Monday this summer we'll hear from artists under 40 about what inspires their work and how they view the future for artists in the state. Support for Young At Art comes fromQuantum Leap Capital.