The faces of dance
Locals bring mix of styles to Steamboat Springs dance community.
For Renee Fleischer, dance is not only a form of expression, it’s a way of life.
Renee started dancing at age 3 and has never known life without it.
As a child, the dance studio is where she made lifelong friends. She attended college at Arizona State University, where she majored in dance. She then earned a scholarship at the Academy of Performing Arts in San Diego and worked as a cheerleader with the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos.
Eleven years ago, Renee moved to Steamboat Springs, and brought her love of dance with her. She began teaching fitness and jazz at a local studio and eventually opened Elevation Dance Studio four years ago.
Her studio has become a hub for Steamboat’s dance community, offering classes in creative movement, ballet, contemporary, hip-hop, jazz and tap. The studio recently announced that it’s starting a competitive dance program for young athletes looking to take dance to the next level.
Renee has seen her studio grow from 80 students to 230 in four years. But beyond the numbers, it’s the level of dancing that thrills her. She thinks that dance has gained a foothold in the community, highlighted by the performances put on by the Steamboat Dance Theatre and her studio.
“I think dance is relevant in Steamboat Springs, for sure,” Renee said. “The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club has always been a huge breeding place for Olympians, so it’s nice to see dance rising to that same level.”
Today, Renee thinks there are great opportunities for students who are interested in dance to pursue their passion in college or rise to the professional level. She added that Steamboat has a rich and varied dancing community, from ballet to contemporary and hip-hop to country-western.
Hip-hop: Tiana Buschmann
Tiana Buschmann always knew she wanted to be a dancer, but it wasn’t until she was introduced to hip-hop at age 11 that dance finally grabbed a hold of her.
“For whatever reason, my first introduction to hip-hop spoke to me,” Tiana said. “The dance, the style, the culture, the music, the clothes and the people were everything that never was in ballet class. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the other dance styles, but none of them made me feel the way hip-hop makes me feel.”
Tiana continued to study other styles of dance but said that hip-hop became her main focus, with its roots based on various styles that have evolved since the early 1970s.
She thinks that hip-hop — a more urban form of dance — has found its place in the Steamboat Springs community partly because of the Internet, TV and pop music that has made the style more accessible to students from different demographics.
But for Tiana, dance is an opportunity to share a positive message as well as a positive expression of music and dance.
“The unique thing about hip-hop is that it is not just a dance style, but it is a culture,” Tiana said.
Country-western: Don Miles
Don Miles always has loved to dance.
But when he moved to Steamboat Springs in 1988, he put his passion on hold because he couldn’t find any good places to dance.
“A friend said we should go country dancing,” Don said. “I was able to pick up the steps pretty quick, and over the next couple of years, my friends taught me how to master it.”
But Don’s dancing didn’t end on the floor of the Steamboat Saloon, which used to be located in Sundance Plaza. In fact, it led to an appearance at the Steamboat Dance Theatre.
“This is when I found out about the ballet studio in Steamboat Springs, run by Julie Snedan,” he recalls. “I asked about it, and she offered me a role in ‘The Nutcracker’ as an adult in the party scene.”
The role led Don to commit to ballet, and he danced in several lead roles. He credits Snedan for inspiring him to develop as a dancer.
“I have been dancing in ballets, the Steamboat Dance Theatre and had a brief opportunity to go home and dance with the Ohio Dance Theater. The one place I completely feel free and at home is on the dance floor.”
Country-western: Amanda Leftwich
Amanda Leftwich grew up dancing.
“I started dance lessons in kindergarten with Karen Comeau,” Amanda said. “I did ballet, tap and jazz with her for years.”
She fell in love with country swing dancing and, eventually, after taking lessons at Elevation Dance Studio with Brady and Jenny Meier, Amanda found that she was hooked on advanced swing, including West Coast, Lindy and Charleston dancing.
“I dance with Steamboat Stomp, a country group here in town, and I am starting to get into teaching dance lessons for couples with Don Miles,” Amanda said.
Throughout the past four years, Amanda and Don have worked together to choreograph country pieces for Steamboat Dance Theatre. Amanda said the goal of the group — outside of having a really good time — is to recruit more male dancers for the show.
“We have succeeded every year,” Amanda said. “We both enjoy meeting new friends through the Steamboat Dance Theatre and having our vision come to life onstage through all of our dancers.”
Contemporary: Stephanie Kohlhardt
For contemporary dancer Stephanie Kohlhardt, there is no better place to express her feelings than on a stage and through dance.
“Contemporary-style dance is connected to the community because it is so closely tied to human emotion and expression. As a dancer, I can portray an exact feeling to the audience through movement, almost as if speaking actual words.”
On the stage, Stephanie uses body movements to express every emotion from happiness to heartbreak. She thinks that the dancer and the audience can share the emotions that move a piece from start to finish during a performance.
Stephanie started dancing at age 3 and trained in ballet, jazz and tap while growing up in Loveland. She also has competed in contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, jazz and ballet at conventions in Denver.
Stephanie taught at the Broadway Bound Dance Academy starting at age 16 and performed with the Colorado State University Dance Department, where she also was part of the CSU Golden Poms, which performed at CSU football and basketball games.
She became part of Steamboat Springs’ dancing community shortly after moving here in 2010 and has been teaching at Elevation Dance Studio for the past four years. This spring, she directed her first piece for Steamboat Dance Theatre.
Tap: Jean Labaree
Dancer Jean Labaree was drawn to the dance floor at an early age and got hooked on tap dancing almost as soon as she laced up her first pair of shoes.
“It’s fun because you are making noise,” Jean said.
She also chose tap because she wasn’t that flexible, and she was fairly good at tap dancing from the start.
Jean said she has found her place in the small but dedicated tap dancing community. She even has choreographed a few shows for Steamboat Dance Theatre.
Jean said she dabbled in other styles, including jazz and ballet, but her heart always led her back to tap.
“I started as a child when I was 8 years old,” Jean said. “I grew up outside Chicago, and the tap dancers were always in those older movies.”
Jean moved to Steamboat Springs in the 1970s and taught physical education at the old junior high school. She said there were stretches of time when she didn’t tap dance, but after she had her children, she returned to the art as a way to get back into shape.
“Tap is a great way to stay in shape because you are constantly moving,” she said.
Now in her 60s, Jean said it takes very little effort to get her feet moving in a rhythmic fashion. She still teaches and said if she can find the time, she plans to return to the Steamboat Dance Theatre.
“The Steamboat Dance Theatre is a very special thing,” Jean said. “They embrace all of the dancers from those who may have taken a couple of classes as a child to those who could be professional.”
She said that approach is echoed throughout the Steamboat Springs dancing community, where dancers all know and support one another.
Aerials: Heidi Miller
The first time Heidi Miller tried aerial dancing, she fell in love with the art.
“I discovered a strength and freedom I didn’t realize I had,” she said. “Dancing on the ground always has been a challenge for me, but once I took flight in the fabric, it not only felt natural, but it suited my personality well.
“I love the balance of the art,” Miller explained. “I look so gentle, beautiful, flowy and natural as you observe, however, when you start climbing into the fabric, you realize how hard, intimidating and challenging it can be.”
Heidi was introduced to aerial dance during a workshop at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp. The workshop was held two years in a row, and Heidi met Lora Labaree the second summer. Soon, Heidi started taking Lora’s aerial classes.
“I fell in love with this type of dance,” Heidi said. “It’s just so flipping fun, literally. It is physically and emotionally empowering to receive the gifts that you gain from aerial arts. The upper body and core strength, the bravery, flexibility and confidence is like no other.
“I feel that as the amazing dance community in Steamboat Springs continues to grow, adding variation with aerial arts just nurtures the dancers and adds a beautiful new dimension and option to the entire dancer’s needs.”
Aerials: Lora Labaree
Lora Labaree started dancing as a child and continued to dance through college, eventually working as a performer for Disney for more than eight years.
But a few years ago, a fascination with Cirque du Soleil inspired her to take her art to new heights. When she discovered that Chris Harrison, the director of one of her favorite groups, New York Antigravity, was teaching aerial yoga classes, she enrolled.
“The mixture of dance, performance and fitness was a dream come true,” she said.
Lora has been teaching Pilates and fitness for five years — the past four at Steamboat Pilates and Fitness. With the support of her boss, Wendy Puckett, Lora went to Denver with a group to attend aerial dance workshops and training. She also was able to participate in a workshop at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp.
“I was inspired by the mixture of dance, fitness and the benefits the aerial apparatuses could provide,” she said.
In October 2012, instructors rigged six hammocks at Steamboat Pilates and Fitness, and Steamboat’s journey into aerial dance took flight.
Today, the downtown fitness center offers classes for children, teens and adults.
“The hammocks allow people to move freely in all directions of space, including upside down, and the benefits of this are immense,” Lora said. “Steamboat is such a unique, passionate town with so many talented, strong people, so why not bring something else unique to it?”