Nonprofit dance company celebrates 40 years, takes performances to seniors

Nonprofit dance company celebrates 40 years, takes performances to seniors
Ballerina Ida Vera, front, with Dr. George Trotter, Roslyn and Curtis Evelyn and Sue Barry

When Debra Rankin’s grandfather was a resident at St. Catherine’s Labouré Place in 1978, he was unable to get out and attend the Jacksonville Concert Ballet Company’s end-of-year recital. Rankin, as company director, decided to take her troupe on the road to perform for him and other residents. Now, 40 years later, the “road show” has become a joy-filled tradition for the company.

Today, several of the present-day dancers are the children of those first performers, and the dancers get as great a blessing from performing as the residents do from watching, said Rankin, a  Murray Hill resident.

“It’s important for young people to learn to give back to the community by sharing their talents. These performances help our dancers gain confidence and poise. Performing in unusual venues stretches the dancers’ capabilities and gives them the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and technique,” she said. “It gives the younger ones an appreciation and understanding of those whose lives are different from their own. We give these performances as a gift to the community.” 

Recently the company celebrated its anniversary performing selections from Vivaldi’s “Seasons” for residents at St. Catherine’s Labouré Place, Cross Creek Nursing Home and Signature HealthCARE nursing homes.

Pam Litz and Chris McGill

The nonprofit consists of a junior and senior company of dancers who are accepted by audition. Many of the dancers train at Baggs Studio of Ballet in Murray Hill, and many are enrolled in public performing arts schools. Most perform in the annual Jacksonville Community Nutcracker in December as well. 

Rankin said several of the dancers who have come up “through the ranks” are now contributing choreographers.

Ida Vera, who has performed with the company for 12 years, made her choreographic debut for the senior company with a moving dance, “Three Rounds and a Sound,” to the soundtrack from the movie, “Schindler’s List.” Pamela Litz, who started in the junior company at age 9, and whose mother performed with the JCBC in previous years, created “Trois,” a jazz number performed by Caroline Owen, Morgan Murwain and Larris Bostick, alternating with David Brandon.

The JCBC is a family affair with the Rankins in harmony with dance, music and marriage. Roslyn and Curtis Evelyn are another married duo. There are several sets of sisters and brothers, including Caroline and Jack Owen, Lanny and Morgan Murwain, Chelsea and Chase Virta-Steel, Chris McGill, his sister Melissa Cooper, and her daughter Alana Cooper. To paraphrase an old expression, “The family that dances together, stays together.”

When you spend hours in class and rehearsal each week and are dependent on one another for a successful program, the bonds of friendship become like family. The “Not So Over the Hill Gang,” Sue Barry, Dr. George Trotter, Peggy Harrell and the Evelyns, have been performing together for more years than they wish to mention.

Numerous comments were made by the senior care facility residents about the strength of the male dancers, and the beauty and grace of the girls. They enjoyed Hugh Rankin’s tuba playing and educational dance history remarks. Many swayed back and forth in their wheelchairs to “Up the Lazy River” and a gospel favorite, “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.”

Shouts of “Thank you! Thank you so much! It was beautiful,” followed the dancers out the door. “It is heartwarming to see the smiles on the folks’ faces, knowing that most can’t get out to enjoy the arts. The gratitude expressed is very humbling and I am blessed more than the residents,” said Sue Barry.

Carousel Waltz finale

Carousel Waltz finale

By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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