Tap into your artistic side on the first Friday of every month. We showcase Arizona art educators committed to making a difference. If you were gifted a strong, vivacious program might you just accept it? Would the show simply go on or would you create a new act? Don’t waste your breath asking ElizFeb 02, 2018
Tap into your artistic side on the first Friday of every month. We showcase Arizona art educators committed to making a difference.
If you were gifted a strong, vivacious program might you just accept it? Would the show simply go on or would you create a new act? Don’t waste your breath asking Elizabeth Pease, the Corona del Sol High School dance director, because her actions are proof of the path she chose.
Growing up, the Oregon-native never imagined she would teach dance — she envisioned a career center stage. Although she only spent one year in the professional dance world, it’s clear she is now right at home.
With roughly 175 students in the Corona Dance Company, there are five full classes at varying levels. Due to the current state of funding for education in Arizona, Pease is a one-woman show and her classes are filled to the brim.
Although she has two decades of classical ballet training under her belt, the Arizona State University alumna creates a dance opportunity that integrates many styles. But what she’s most proud of is her ability to create a warm and welcoming environment for learners with diverse experiences, regardless of the type of dance they’re learning and performing.
“I focus on positivity and choosing happiness. I let dance be a place in the day where they can escape the hard things that teenagers go through every day. It’s a safe space. I also give them a platform to create and respect themselves,” Pease explains.
At Corona del Sol, students can choose to put their dance credit toward the physical education or performing arts requirement for graduation, or it can count as an elective. According to Pease, there are individuals who float in and out of the program and some who stay throughout their entire high school career.
“In some ways I feel like I’m running my own little studio. This is a dance company, not just a high school dance program,” she says. “It’s an incredible thing to come into a public high school and have this experience working with students every single day. The best part is that you not only have kids who come in trained. At Corona, we offer a really high-level experience for them, but many come in and try dance who have never been able to do it before.”
The Corona del Sol dance program has deep roots. The former director, Karen Thelander, created and ran the group for 29 years. Originally hired as a general physical education teacher, Thelander started the course as an opportunity to keep kids active, but out of the Arizona heat.
“Dance was proposed decades ago because they were looking for indoor exercise activities,” Pease explains. “Once more kids were involved, the levels evolved — beginner, intermediate, advanced. It became a variation of fine arts and physical education.”
As a teacher, Pease chooses to look at the dancer as an entire person, including his or her mental, social, and physical health. She believes when teachers do that, students are afforded greater opportunities to grow.
“As a class, dance is designed and focused on the state standards, and daily effort and participation. Students must have a great attitude and come prepared. There is a technique test that they take each quarter and the goal is that there would be improvement in all skills,” she says.
But there are other benefits, too, the energetic teacher boasts. “I love to use community resources. I feel like I’m knowledgeable about certain things, but if I can find someone who knows more than I do or is an expert in their field, I welcome them in. I bring in speakers, including physical therapists, personal trainers, etc.”
A round of applause, please, for this teacher putting forth an incredible amount of effort to offer a world-class chance for her learners. To date, Pease says she’s most proud of the program’s two, yearly performances, which she deems New-York quality.
“When I came to Corona, I decided to set our own version of the Nutcracker. We invite kids from the community to train with us and they perform as the Bon Bons. Essentially, we’re training up the next generation of Corona dancers,” she beams. “I don’t know of any other schools that have a performance like that. Our spring show is always something different and often cross references things that are going on in the world.”
The busy director isn’t the only one who cherishes the performances. Because she gets the community involved, it’s become a tradition for families and Valley residents.
“Elizabeth is doing a terrific job at keeping Corona’s dance program one of the best in the state. It gets better every year,” Thelander affirms. “Her Nutcracker Tale performance in December is fantastic.”
Tradition or not, one thing is for sure: For the last four years, Pease has shaped her students into respectful, creative, and intentional humans. For that, we say, “bravo.”