By: Hal de Becker

The above is an excerpt from the mission statement of the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts (LVA) and is an apt description of the Academy’s commitment to its students.     


At LVA more than 1700 selected high school students have the opportunity to train and major in all or either dance, music, drama and the visual arts while pursuing their regular academic courses.    


In 1993, after extensive renovations, the Academy opened its doors on the 7th Street site of what had been the City’s first high school when constructed in 1931.  


LVA is a glowing exception to Nevada’s much criticized education system.  It has been honored by the U.S. Department of Education, has a five star district rating, been recipient of numerous awards and – especially impressive -- 86 per cent of its graduates continue on to secondary education institutions. 


Dance instructor, Kristine Keppel, told me that in 2012 every senior in the dance department graduated and that the percentage of graduating seniors throughout the school is always very high.   


The Academy is a special magnet school and to be accepted into it students must first pass an audition and possess an overall grade point average of at least 2.0 which they are required to maintain. 


I was recently treated to a tour of the dance facility by the department Chairperson, Jeneane Huggins and Ms. Keppel.  I also taught a ballet class for 35 of the Academy’s talented, dedicated and well-trained students.     


Daily classes in ballet, jazz, various modern forms, ballroom and choreography are conducted by the full time faculty of skilled teachers all of whom possess professional dance backgrounds: Ms. Keppel, Liza Lazenby, Karen Turnbull, Thomas DiSabato and Brook Dickerson. 


But dance is not the only discipline the more than 250 students are trained in: studio etiquette, consideration of colleagues, respect for instructors, promptness, dependability, appropriate attire, and other valuable qualities are stressed at LVA.   


Teachers regularly emphasize to students the importance of their academic studies as well as eating healthy foods, getting plenty of rest and avoiding anything harmful to their artistic aspirations and bodies. 


Before having tattoos, piercing or radical hair color changes students are required to consult with their teacher to discuss the pros and cons of those decisions.  


In addition to offices, classrooms and libraries the facility houses four spacious, elaborately mirrored dance studios each with a quality audio system and marley floor.  (A marley floor is a welcome, albeit expensive, cushioned covering that protects dancers from the excessive fatigue and possible injuries of dancing directly on hard, rigid surfaces.)     


Several times a year students have the opportunity to perform in the department’s professional level dance concerts.  Participation in those productions requires an audition and the student’s ability, effort and attendance influences the result.      


If a student is not selected he or she is provided with written recommendations on how to improve and hopefully be selected next time.  And they can still participate in the production in a non-dance-role such as assisting with ‘front of house’ duties. 


Those insightful procedures reduce the disappointment a student may feel and at the same time offers them encouragement.  “While I strive to develop our students’ artistry,” says Ms. Huggins, “building and protecting their self-esteem is also one of my primary objectives.”


On October 4th and 5th at 7:00pm the department presents its Fall Dance Concert at the Performing Arts Center at Clark and 10th Streets.  Two hundred students will perform a variety of dance works choreographed by the Academy’s full time faculty members.   Tickets cost just $8.00 and can be obtained at the theater box office beginning at 6:00pm the night of the performance.   


All Las Vegans, not just lovers of dance and the other arts, can take pride in their community which has been enlightened enough and caring enough of its youth to establish and support an institution like the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts.


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