By Emily McMason
Hunger doesn’t go away on the weekends. That’s where the pointe shoes come in. For the past five years, Olympia’s Studio West Dance Academy has sponsored the Dance to Make a Difference Charity Gala event to raise money for a wide range of organizations. In years past the dancers have supported Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Washington, Japanese Tsunami victims, Haiti Earthquake relief, Northwest Harvest, Thurston County’s SafePlace, and the Hands on Children’s Museum. This year, the dancers are benefiting their own peers, as all net proceeds will be donated to the Homeless Backpacks program.
For Studio West Dance Academy directors Mary Cecelia Zechmann and Stephanie Wood, starting a gala the year they opened the doors of Studio West was a natural extension of themselves into the community. Before the studio opened, Zechmann was a social worker as well as a ballet teacher. As Wood says “[she was] spending most of her time helping families in need. Creating an event to continue reaching out to the community in need felt important and necessary to us.” Adds Zechmann, “Stephanie, too, had the same vision and together we decided to present the first Charity Gala after our doors had been open only ten months. We wanted to teach our students how the art of dance can be linked to helping others.”
For K-12 students in Thurston County (and parts of Mason and Grays Harbor as well), the non-profit organization Homeless Backpacks provides food for non-school days for at risk, hungry or homeless youth. For many of the local dancers, these students are their peers and classmates. The importance of that understanding is vital to their growth and development, as a person and a performer. “The dancers gain an awareness of those in need and an understanding that they can help by sharing their passion for dance with the community, at an impressionable age. Stepping on stage is always an amazing experience for any performer, but when you’re making a difference it reaches you deep in your soul,” describes Woods.
Four regional dance groups are coming together this year to support the Homeless Backpacks program at the Charity Gala, including Renton’s Evergreen City Ballet, Tacoma’s Washington Contemporary Ballet , Seattle’s Serendipity Dance Brigade and Studio West Dance Theatre’s performers.
“Dance to Make a Difference is a beautiful event because of its goal to raise money for others. Often dance organizations present festivals and performances to raise money for their own companies, which is important and necessary. However, we believe in teaching our students the beauty and power of using their art form to helps others,” explains Wood.
“We wanted to create an event that wasn’t just about helping others, but one at which the audience would also have a wonderful time,” continues Zechmann. “Dance to Make a Difference is not only a treat for your eyes but an abundant evening full of appetizers from local restaurant i.talia, wine from The Wine Loft, as well as live music. Tickets are $40 dollars, which is a great deal for an evening full of entertainment, delicious treats and supporting a great cause.”
The event continues to grow, and Zechmann and Wood have relocated the Gala twice to accommodate the ever-increasing crowds. “The first two years we presented this gala we performed at our in-house theatre. We quickly outgrew this intimate space and for the past three years we have performed at SPSCC’s Kenneth J. Minnaert Center, and now The Washington Center for the Performing Arts. The more who attend, the more we are able to give back,” explains Wood.
The audience is growing not only in numbers, but in its participation as well. This year Studio West held a contest, asking community members to vote for their charity of choice. “We know there are so many worthwhile causes in our area, and we wanted to ask our supporters for their input. We wanted to know what organization matters most,” says Zechmann.
Whether you want to attend for a date night, evening with the girls, or just to support local dancers, mark your calendars for Studio West’s 6th annual charity gala.
Dance To Make A Difference occurs on Saturday February 22, 2014 at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts. Appetizers, wine and live music begins at 6pm with the performance beginning at 8pm. For tickets please visit OlyTix.org or call (360) 753-8585.