Most experts believe that the key to economic development in the Mississippi Delta will occur as a result of individuals creating new businesses. It is known as entrepreneurship. I doubt the experts would have included the subject of ballet in their discussion about economic and development in the Mississippi Delta. But then those experts probably have not met Krista Bower.
Bower directs the Yazoo City School of Dance, owns and operates Front Porch Dance, teaches at Belhaven University and is deeply involved with the upcoming International Ballet Competition. Recently, I sat down with Bower to learn more about her and her ballet activities.
Question: First, tell me a little about your background and why you came to Mississippi?
Answer: I was born and raised in Michigan. At the end of high school, I auditioned and was accepted to seven college dance programs around the country. I chose Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi because of the uniqueness of a strong dance program at a Christian institution. At Belhaven, I found a dance department that challenged me technically, artistically, and spiritually
Q: When did you know that dance would be such a big part of your life?
A: I began taking dance lessons at the age of four. I trained primarily in ballet and modern dance as a child and began pursuing dance more seriously when I was about 11 years old. I remember thinking at a young age that I would love to be a dance instructor when I grew up. I had so much respect for my dance teachers and saw that they found joy and fulfillment in their work. By the end of high school, I knew that I wanted to continue my study of dance in college. I finished with a BFA in dance and truly enjoyed all the opportunities I had to train, perform, and choreograph at Belhaven.
Q: What is it about teaching dance that you like most?
A: I love sharing the gift of dance with my students. Dance has been such an integral part of my life, and it is a joy to be able to pass my knowledge and experience in the art form to my students. My students gain self-confidence, discipline, and grace as they explore their creative and expressive potential in dance classes. Watching my students’ growth from year to year is very rewarding.
Q. Tell me about the Yazoo City project.
A: One of my friends from college was teaching some dance classes in Yazoo City. She decided to move to New York City to pursue performing opportunities, and she was looking for someone to take over her classes in Yazoo City. I had just graduated from Belhaven College when my friend approached me about the dance program. She asked me to help out with her spring recital, so I drove to Yazoo City for the first time. The studio is located in the Triangle Cultural Center, a historic building downtown. An old elementary school classroom was converted into a dance studio. Across the hallway from the studio is a charming theater, perfect for hosting dance performances.
What began as an afternoon volunteering to help with a friend’s dance recital ended with me deciding to take over the dance program. I saw the great service that the dance school provided, and I committed to keeping it alive. I applied for a city business license, began advertising in the area schools and businesses, and held a registration day for the Yazoo City School of Dance in August of 2006. John Byrd, who was Director of the Triangle Cultural Center, provided much guidance and assistance as I started this venture. The year before I took over the program, there were about 35 students enrolled. I began teaching eight classes per week in the fall of 2006 with 60 students after my advertising campaign.
In July of 2006, I also learned that a small dance program in Kosciusko, Mississippi was in need of a new director since the previous instructors had moved on. Since I was already starting one program in a small Mississippi town, I decided I was up for the challenge of directing a second program. I began advertising in Kosciusko and directed a dance program at First Presbyterian Church with 30 students. I graduated from college in May and became the director of two dance schools in September. I commuted to Kosciusko on Mondays and drove to Yazoo City on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That January, I was also hired to teach beginning modern dance classes at Belhaven College as an adjunct instructor. The next year, I decided I should focus my attention on growing the Yazoo City School of Dance and continuing my work teaching courses at Belhaven College. I handed over the Kosciusko Dance Program to another capable Belhaven Dance Department graduate.
I have just completed my fourth year directing the Yazoo City School of Dance. There were 85 students enrolled. I teach 9 classes per week for children and adults. The students enrolled this year come from Yazoo City, Bentonia, Louise, Benton, Belzoni, Vaughan, Satartia, Tchula, and Pickens. My students come from diverse backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses. Classes typically run from September through May, culminating in a spring performance.
Q. What is Front Porch Dance Company?
A: Front Porch Dance is a contemporary dance company that I co-founded in May of 2008. It is a Mississippi-based dance collective comprised of local artists who collaborate to produce innovative choreographic works. Our aim is to foster appreciation of contemporary dance by engaging audiences through approachable dance art. Although I am very busy, I am thankful to be working in the field of dance in so many capacities.
Q: And is there is personal life?
A: I am married to Josh Bower, who I met my freshman year at Belhaven College. Josh works for the Mississippi Development Authority as an International Trade Specialist to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. He is very supportive of me and all my endeavors in the arts.
Q: I understand you have a role in the upcoming USA International Ballet Competition.
A: I am serving as the Dance School Administrator for the USA International Ballet Competition (USA IBC) Dance School and Teacher’s Workshop. During the ballet competition, over 300 students from around the world come to Jackson to take classes in ballet, pointe, variations, character, jazz, and modern dance from master teachers. I will be coordinating details of these two programs including registration, class placement, daily schedules, dance instructors, accompanists, extracurricular activities, housing, transportation, etc.
Phil Hardwick is coordinator of capacity development at the John C. Stennis Institute of Government. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.