Arts Association takes over Mainstream Dance

COVINGTON - The Arts Association in Newton County and Covington Regional Ballet have assumed operations of Mainstream Dance, effective June 1.

The merger will bring the studio and company together under the same organization and direction, according to a press release issued by the Arts Association.

"This is a big step for the Arts Association in assuring this community that the role of dance is here to stay, that technical dance training combined with a pre-professional dance company formalizes a program of dance study and performance, making dance a keynote of our arts programming for generations to come," said Arts Association Executive Director Buncie Hay Lanners.

The studio and company will be under the artistic direction of Peter and Ashley Swan, who have been artistic directors of Covington Regional Ballet for the past two years as well as instructors at Mainstream Dance.

Mainstream Dance, located in The Lula Building in downtown Covington, has provided rented rehearsal space for Covington Regional Ballet and the two entities share a common student base, said Ashley Swan. But, Swan said it's unique to have a company and studio operating as separate entities under different directors. The merger will allow streamlining in terms of scheduling, she said.

"We really don't anticipate making many substantial changes this first year," she said. "We're really trying to make this transition as smooth and easy as possible."

The same classes currently offered will continue, Swan said, adding there may be an expansion of programming, such as offering drama and musical theater classes.

Mainstream Dance currently has more than 200 students, Lanners said.

"Most ballet companies, 99.9 percent, that are big companies, companies that are growing or wanting to grow, have a studio associated with them ... What we realized was for the long-term sustainability of the dance company that we needed the studio to be a part of it," Lanners said.

Mainstream Dance was founded seven years ago under the direction of Jaime Robtison and Jill Davies, who will not longer be affiliated with the studio. However, this summer, the Contemporary, Intro and Classical Partnering and Summer Ballet Company will still be conducted by Robtison. The Arts Association will run the other scheduled summer programs. School Year 2013-2014 programming and summers thereafter will all be conducted by the Arts Association/Covington Regional Ballet.

Mainstream Dance offers ballet, tap, jazz and hip hop classes, along with a children's program, according to its website. Dance classes will continue to be offered for students who are not part of the company. Diversifying its offerings will help the Arts Association stay marketable and in tune with the community's needs, Lanners said.

The Swans worked with the Arts Association as guest dancers, choreographers and teachers for a number of years before coming to Covington from Charleston Ballet Theatre where they served as professional dancers. Ashley Swan also served as a teacher and program director in the Charleston Ballet Theatre School. They have choreographed, produced and instructed company dancers in productions of "The Nutcracker" for the Arts Association in 2011 and 2012, and two spring productions, "Alice in Wonderland" and "Snow White," and other repertory pieces in 2012 and 2013. In addition, the Swans, who now live in Porterdale, choreographed and produced the first contemporary dance performance in the fall of 2012 for the Arts Association/Covington Regional Ballet at Oxford College and debuted their original work, "ONE: Body, Space and Time."

Lanners gave a special thanks to Robtison, Davies and Arts Association donors.

"The Arts Association will be forever grateful to them for the solid foundation and organization they built to enable dance to become what it is today in the Covington area," she said of Robtison and Davies. "At a time when arts organizations around the country continue to look for ways to be sustainable, this community should be thrilled that the Board of Directors of the Arts Association continues to look for ways to make sure we are here for the long-term. Our students, our parents, our staff and our board are so grateful for our donors who, day in and day out, enable the important work we do. We couldn't be more excited about the forward progression of our dance programming and the role it plays in the Arts Association's programs and services for this community."