Dance schools come together to lift one of their own

River Region Ballet in Norco, the aftermath of Hurricane Ida,

She was disappointed, but even more, Heidi Adams was hurt by the idea that her dance students wouldn’t be able to showcase the results of their hard work – or, potentially, not be able to continue it at all for the time being.

River Region Ballet, where Adams serves as artistic director, moved into a new Norco studio in July and had just three weeks of classes before Hurricane Ida rendered the Apple Street site unusable.

“We were barely in there, and then suddenly, one day, it’s just gone,” Adams said.

It meant the school’s dancers had nowhere to practice, perform or hone their craft – and, sadly, it meant the loss of one outlet to distract from the many day-to-day problems faced during Ida’s fallout.

It also meant that moving forward with the ballet’s annual performance of The Nutcracker, a tradition it began more than 25 years ago, seemed quite unlikely.

Adams has been a part of the show since its beginning in 1995, first as a performer, then as a rehearsal assistant before finally being asked to take over as director.

“It was tough to imagine not doing it, but we just didn’t have a space,” she said. “Can we rehearse in people’s backyard? There weren’t many options.”

That meant all of the work the school’s students had put in over the summer wouldn’t be realized through a production that resonates with so many people both in and outside of the dance community. Shows are countless, but The Nutcracker, specifically, has a legacy.

“It’s that big thing all the performers look forward to. And if you miss a year, maybe you missed that chance to be Clara, or to play another big role … it only comes once a year, and you only get one role each year. We have so many who came to our classes over the summer and put so much time and effort in,” Adams said.

“I know when I’m out and about, people come up to me and say, ‘Hey, we know you, you do the Nutcracker!’ People have been going to see it for years. They make a family outing of it, and it’s kind of a tradition for a lot of people.”

Adams shared her story with many of her peers. Following the storm, several St. Charles Parish dance schools started a collective Facebook group for members to keep up and check up on each other following the storm.

That sense of caring and community was fortified even more when a few fellow dance directors stepped up to provide a solution that would get the dancers back on the stage they belonged.

River Region Ballet dancers at Encore Dance studio, which was allowing the former to utilize their space after the damage done to the River Region Ballet site.

Emily Mire of Studio S in Destrehan was one who reached out. She was part of the Nutcracker show two years ago and wanted to help: she offered weekend use of her studio for rehearsals, and some open studio space for Adams to conduct a class.

“She was so adamant … we’ve got to make this happen, we’ve got to come together,” Adams said. “She said the story just touched her.”

Broadway Open gave River Region’s dancers a place to try on their costumes. And every studio in the parish, Adams said, pledged to work with her students so they could attend classes. And talented theatre students who have seen their own shows cancelled have offered their own services to help with the upcoming production.

“It’s incredible how people are coming together here to support their own,” Adams said. “Just open arms with everything. For all of these dance studios to come together and tell you, ‘if your students need to take classes, they can take classes. You need studio space? That’s what’s keeping the show from happening? I’ve got that, I can help with that. It’s wonderful and we’re so grateful.”

Now that, indeed, the show will go on – the first show is set for Dec. 18, with another a day later – it’s brought a sense of joy to the performers, and also for those around them.

“Kids and even their parents have walked in and thanked us for doing this, because it gives them something to look forward to,” Adams said. “Some of our cast is commuting from New Orleans East. Some from Elmwood. People are staying with their friends, family, in gutted houses, and this is their one time each weekend to let it go. It’s so uplifting to hear them share that, because it makes us feel like, ‘OK, we did something good here.’”


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