KETCHIKAN, Alaska — Ketchikan Theatre Ballet’s new executive artistic director, Desiree Roan, aims to bring new ideas, a broadened program and stringent goals to the organization.
“We are definitely raising the barre,” Roan said, emphatic that the phrase use the French spelling for a dancer’s support bar. “The level is going to be lifted up, but not overnight. In increments.”
Hired in May, Roan stepped into the director’s position about a half a year after the previous director departed.
Roan said she has worked as a professional dancer all of her adult life, working in Oklahoma, New Mexico and also touring “all over” with her own company. She said she and her husband, Charles, are retired, but they saw an opportunity when she discovered KTB’s search for a new director.
“He and I have always wanted to be in Alaska,” she said.
That interest in Alaska [—] and the fact that dancing and teaching dance “is my passion” [—] drew Roan to KTB.
Roan was introduced to dance when her mother enrolled her in classes to channel her “oodles of energy.” She said she was lucky to have been an “Army brat” who lived with her family in places that enjoyed dance teachers with incredible talent and experience, and guest artists from around the world.
Although retired from dancing as a professional, Roan said she still does “lots of guesting” for companies who need a character artist.
Since arriving in Ketchikan on July 3, Roan said she has “hit the ground running,” tackling the studio’s tight schedule as the season ramps up.
One of the new programs she brought with began Wednesday. A “Fairytale Ballet Camp,” inspired by the movie “Frozen,” caters to children who are 4 to 10 years of age. The camp ties into one of Roan’s goals, which is to offer more opportunities for younger children.
Other new classes Roan is launching are a “Mommy/Daddy &Me” class for 2-year-old children; a “Discovery Ballet” class for beginning dancers who are 8 to 12 years old; and free trial classes for children between the ages of 2 and 12 at an open house.
“Having a great experience really helps the kids to step up,” Roan said, adding that success in dance classes can help to increase a child’s sense of self worth that boosts confidence to pursue all kinds of goals in life.
She also has scheduled a new “Creative Movement” class to the studio’s offerings, giving 3- and 4-year-olds separate instruction. As a veteran dance teacher of children in those age groups for many years, Roan said those age groups have quite different needs. In addition to teaching the children about dance, she said the classes for the younger age levels are about preparing them to be students. The dance part is easy with the young children, she said.
“They love to dance, to move, and the repetition,” she said. Also, “they love the success.”
Roan said studies have shown that early childhood dance education “helps develop the brain and prepares them academically for math, reading . problem solving. It helps them in every facet.”
She also said nurturing those young students is how they are “building the foundation of our school.”
A new summer program for jazz students of ages 7 and up was implemented by Roan as well. The previous lower age limit for that class had been about 8 years old, she said.
Roan also is implementing a new program, “Open Teen/Adult,” for experienced dancers who are older or who do not have time to commit to KTB’s junior or senior companies. A new “Junior Prep Company” also has been added to help ease students’ way into the advanced companies.
Most things KTB has in place, Roan said she embraces and will not change. For instance, Roan is eager to continue the annual Nutcracker production’s tradition of casting male high-school students as part of the party scene. One small change she said she plans to make to the Nutcracker, however, is to add more roles for the very young dancers.
The season’s performances, which include the Autumn Showcase, The Nutcracker Ballet, An Evening of Dance and the Spring Gala, are critical to students of an art that is all about performing, Roan said.
“They love to perform, and they love to perform for their community,” Roan said.
The people who kept the studio running during the months with no director have impressed Roan.
“The faculty, staff and board did a fabulous job; they really pulled together as a team,” she said. “All of us have hit it off really well.”
Returning instructors this season are Elizabeth Avila, Jess Hofmann, and Carol Schafer. New instructors, Lani McElroy and Kim Stone, will fill out the staff.
Another of Roan’s goals is to enhance the cohesiveness of the faculty, curriculum and teaching methods. She is training instructors in her methods for interacting with students, parents and for structuring class time, she said. She will teach the students who are in about the sixth- or seventh-grade, who are just learning to dance en pointe.
She said she has been impressed by the high quality of dancers that the studio has produced over its nearly 50-year history.
“For a small community, the outcome has been pretty good,” she said, noting the many students who have gone on to study dance in college, and to create successful dance careers.
Even more impressive, she said, is the number of dancers who grew up, moved away to study dance, then returned to KTB as instructors. All instructors teaching now, with the exception of McElroy, were KTB students previously.
“It’s the proof in the pudding,” Roan said. “Giving back to the community.”
Roan emphasized that even though the organization is a nonprofit, it must be run as a business [—] offering people what they want and balancing a budget, in addition to achieving artistic goals.
“We are paid to be here,” she said. “It’s not our hobby, it’s our passion.”