Virginia Tanner’s creative dance classes offered in Park City
September 29, 2015
The late creative dance pioneer Virginia Tanner established her creative-dance program in Salt Lake City in 1937. Her philosophy centered on the idea that wholesome, creative activity would allow children to develop alert minds, healthy bodies and strong character.
Tanner Dance, offered at the University of Utah, remains true to her original mission, which is to create "worthwhile human beings who contribute to their community."
For more than 25 years, Tanner Dance has offered classes in Park City and continues today at Parleys Park Elementary School, said Studio Director Joni Urry Wilson, known to her students as Miss Joni.
"This is part of a long-lasting relationship with Park City," Wilson told The Park Record. "I’m so thrilled to offer these classes up there because it’s so exciting for us."
Two classes are offered on Tuesday. The first is an elementary-age class, which starts at 4 p.m., for students in kindergarten to second grade. The second class, which starts at 5 p.m., is for older students in third grade to sixth grade.
The fall classes have started, but registration is ongoing and kids can sign up any time, Wilson said.
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"We originally offered the classes at Parleys Park and then moved to the Weilenmann School of Discovery for several years," she said. "This year we’re back at Parleys Park, and because we have relocated, we are offering a 15 percent-off coupon for new Park City-area students."
Since the program’s inception, the Tanner Dance philosophy has remained true to the original vision, but has been adjusted to fit the times, Wilson said.
"There are certain parts of the classes that do respond to the world around us, but our classes still focus on the development of the whole child," she said. "I think this tenet is the basis of our philosophy that people count on, but it’s also important that we stay current with things so we can help children develop through traditional ballet and modern dance technique."
A major part of that training is that each class features a live musician, Parleys Park music teacher Aaron Webb.
" having live music in the classes, the students gain a sense of musicality," Wilson said. "They learn about sequencing, which is such a key target right now when it comes to math, science and languages.
"Also, for any child where English is his or her second language, these classes become another avenue of expression for them, which is remarkable," she said. "Every child needs the opportunity to think creatively, use and expand their imaginations and have the chance to improvise and engage in creative problem solving. This helps them grow cognitively and socially. These are important life skills that they use to understand the world and face challenges. The importance can’t be understated and we educate in a fun and enjoyable way through dance."
Melissa Holm, whom her students call Miss Melissa, is the instructor for both classes and has the background to support her teachings.
"I grew up in the Tanner program and started taking classes from Miss Joni when I was 4," Holm said. "I grew up in the Children’s Dance Theatre, which is Tanner Dance’s performing company."
Holm graduated from the Tanner program when she was 18 in 2004 and last year was her first year as a teacher for the satellite location in Park City.
"I love teaching the younger kids," she said. "These students are especially malleable in the sense that they want to create and want to experience the magic that happens in dance class.
"They come not just to dance or experience an hour with their friends," Holm said. "They come to feel the magic and to look at the world in a different way."
Holm enjoys teaching the older class because, like her younger students, they also like to experience the magic of dance.
"However, they do so even more because they have a little more background about how their bodies move and a lot of things in the world work," she said. "So, they can make a bigger connection between real world life and what they experience in a dance class."
One challenge Holm has faced with her teaching is that some of her older students do start the season with their own ideas of what dance is.
"They also have their preconceived notions about what to expect in their first Tanner Dance class," she said. "Once they experience our class and when parents come and watch, they come to find out that we teach creative movement based on fundamental dance skills that make connections with the world around them."
Another challenge is letting local children and parents know that Tanner Dance is available in the Wasatch Back.
"I think it’s excellent to have the opportunity to teach here in Park City," Holm said. "They have this awesome opportunity to learn Virginia Tanner’s philosophy and partake of this rich legacy she has created.
"The program helped me when I was a student," she said. "It allowed me to use my mind and body to figure out how to solve problems, even problems that don’t have to do with dance.
"I was in sales for two years and ended up using the skills that came with learning the creative process while I was in the Tanner program," Holm said. "I learned how to strengthen my confidence so I could talk with people and resolve concerns and getting commitments from clients. I feel those skills should be learned at every grade level."
Tanner Dance offers classes every Tuesday at Parleys Park Elementary, 4600 Silver Springs Dr., at 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. Each class features a musical accompanist who exposes dancers to a variety of musical genres. Students in kindergarten and older classes will participate in one proscenium performance each year at Kingsbury Hall as part of the annual spring Tanner Dance Studio Show. For more information, or to register, call 801-581-7374 or visit http://www.tannerdance.utah.edu .