May 2, 2008

City in Motion remains true to its ‘dance’ mission
by David Ollington

In 1984, a group of local professional modern dancers chose to strike out on their own and form an organization dedicated to nurturing the growth of contemporary dance in Kansas City. Randy Barron, Jean Dickinson, Rick Hillis, Kathleen Kingsley and Ariel Thomas served as collective artistic directors for the organization they dubbed City in Motion Dance Theater.

CIMDT’s tenure now approaches the quarter of a century mark. The longevity stands as a testament to a successful realization of this dream: to create a central hub for an active dance culture, including a dance school built on the philosophy “that everyone is a dancer.”

But the dream turned a little cloudy in 2000. City in Motion lost the large church on West Pennway where the dancers taught, performed and rehearsed. CIMDT survived this potentially devastating blow largely because of strong support from the community.

Each year City in Motion has presented a concert season, maintained a professional company and administered a School of Dance. The founders envisioned an umbrella organization with three such tiers: school, company and showcase series.

Even as the organization’s artistic leadership has changed over the past 24 years, the vision remained consistent. Artistic Directors Dale Fellin, Penny Hearne and Andrea Skowronek currently guide CIMDT.

“The current, general economic slowdown is a little scary, plus there are a lot of schools springing up in the midtown area,” Skowronek said in a recent interview.

City in Motion, true to the centrality of their vision, has maintained a midtown presence. Now housed at 3925 Main, the City in Motion school continues to offer a variety of dance disciplines in an array of levels: child, beginning and professional. The support shown historically to City in Motion, the rich tapestry of dance styles taught at the school and the stellar qualifications of the teachers, should help alleviate some of Skowronek’s concerns about competing options in dance in Kansas City. CIMDT remains unique and ingrained into the city’s cultural fabric.

In addition to modern dance, ballet and jazz (the staples), the City in Motion school engages professional dancers and performers to teach the more unusual disciplines. For example, Tamara Carsons of the performing ensemble Olé instructs flamenco, Bobby Ray of Bobby Ray Entertainment teaches hip-hop and dancer Halah Zeki teaches belly dancing.

For four years, Regina Compernolle has directed the City in Motion school. The skills and qualifications of the City in Motion school faculty inspired her to find a different venue to express the school’s value.

“We want to produce an informal concert that showcases the teacher talent, where our teachers do the performing,” said Compernolle.

As of yet, a date for such a “teacher’s concert” has not been set but the motivation remains.

The City in Motion school provides material for the City in Motion productions. Students have developed choreography that later was performed under CIMDT’s auspices. Choreographers develop dances in the classes they teach and put them onstage in a City in Motion Showcase. One of the brightest feathers in the City in Motion hat is the Children’s Dance Theater.

From inception, City in Motion instructors and artistic directors have taught and inspired children. An ensemble of experienced youth began to hit an accomplished stride in early ‘90s when Kathleen Kingsley, then one of the artistic directors, formed a youth performing ensemble, the City in Motion Children’s Dance Theater.

Dance studios dot the map of the Kansas City. In any corner of the metropolitan area, a child interested in dancing can find a dance studio that offers tap, ballet, tumbling, jazz and baton. It’s common to attend a studio recital and see young people (mostly girls) performing these styles. Yet, City in Motion Children’s Dance Theater refreshes and can surprise dance audiences by presenting youth trained in modern dance.

Skowronek directs the Children’s Dance Theater. “The kids are very honest and willing to do just about anything,” she said proudly.

“Improvisation, anything where you’re experimenting. They’re willing to go along for the ride. They’re enthusiastic. They come to all of the adult performances. They see a lot of dance; see their teachers. They’re extremely creative themselves. Most dancers don’t learn modern dance until college.”

Many of the more mainstream dance studios display trophies in their storefront. Their students compete and approach dance as a team sport, not an art form.

“The City in Motion school,” said Compernolle, “is about the art of dance as opposed to dance as a competitive sport.”

The church on West Pennway served as both studio and theater space. However, the cozy studios at the school on Main Street can limit audience viewing and cramp dancers, unlike the roomy church. To compensate, City in Motion has presented concerts at the Folly Theatre, overseen the Dance in the Park concert at Roanoke Park every September and used the theater space at Penn Valley Community College.

Directly below the current dance studios lies a sizable, empty storefront. City in Motion has turned an interested eye to the space in order to enhance the group’s performing options or, at least, welcome another arts’ group to the neighborhood. MainCor, the nonprofit community development corporation focusing on the Main Street corridor, wants more of an arts presence on Main, said Beth Byrd, City in Motion production coordinator.

Byrd is familiar with the available space downstairs. “It’s got potential,” she said, “16-foot ceilings, original pressed metal, gorgeous. It would make a really good small theater in town. There’s a room for a backstage changing area. Its got parking in back. It needs someone with real interest to go in and do it. Hang lights, put in a few chairs. There are theater companies making much less probable spaces work.”

Added Compernolle, “The space below us is empty and it makes the building look unused. We would like to make it into a performance space, but we need another group or two to share it. It’s kind of a dream. Word has gotten out that we’ve been talking about it.”

Skowronek said, “It would be in everybody’s interest to rent it, better for the block if there were a renter in there. Especially since it’s so big; it would be nice to have it to perform in.”

In a field like modern dance where funding and resources are often limited, City in Motion has always stood out — open to the community, shying away from a competing stance to promote dance as art.

The founders established City in Motion as an organization of mutual nurturance. Acquiring another convenient, accessible performing space will serve not only the needs of City in Motion but help maintain its stature as a regional center for modern dance while serving the needs of a community of active dance professionals.

City in Motion Dance Theater has set a goal or raising $100,000 for capital improvements. The added funding also would enable the organization to further develop it Performing Series. Donations are tax deductible.

The Children’s Dance Theatre will perform on June 1, 3 pm, at Penn Valley Community College. For more information about other upcoming City in Motion performances and events, visit or call 816-561-2882.

David Ollington can be contacted at


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