Friday, Jan 19, 2018

Dance company changing lives

Zeniah Dixon and Katelyn Duber.jpg
Katelyn Duber, right, befriended Zeniah Dixon when the members of Dance Factory traveled to Belize. COURTESY PHOTO

For 20 years, Tina Hansen, a former Chicagoan who lives in Delavan, Wis., has shared her love and passion for dance with the community.

Students as young as 2 and as old as 70 enjoy taking classes at her Dance Factory & Music Studios in Harvard and Delavan.

Hansen’s studios are Angelina Ballerina certified, and students follow an accredited curriculum that teaches dances such as ballet, modern, hip-hop and ballroom. Students participate in library presentations and also visit schools to hold dance demonstrations. A holiday production also is held every year.

But perhaps some of the most important things learned at the Dance Factory are life lessons.

Aside from dance classes and music instruction, Hansen’s business also provides outreach programs for the community and offers an exchange student program in Belize for a select group of students.

“We don’t train kids to be dancers so much,” Hansen said. “We train dancers to be great kids. We are very community-minded. I like helping children realize their full potential and how amazing they really are.

“I’m passionate about what I do,” she continued. “Even if I didn’t get paid, I would still be doing it.”

One way Hansen helps inspire kids is through the exchange student program she’s done in collaboration with the San Pedro Dance Academy on Ambergris Caye, an island in Belize, for the last 18 years.

She created the program after visiting Belize and encountering a group of female dancers who impressed her.

Working with the San Pedro Academy, Hansen brings U.S. students to Belize and also sends Belizeans to the U.S. She said the program is often life-changing for all students involved.

“When in Belize, [the American students] participate in a weeklong intensive dance program. We teach dance to the students in Belize, and the students that come along also help teach.”

American students are immersed in local culture and also perform at orphanages and other venues. The project has had such an impact Hansen said that several students have pooled together money to help their peers in Belize pay for their dance classes, which can be expensive for many local families. Students also have fun joining their Belizean counterparts in activities such as snorkeling and beach parties, which, Hansen said, are often funded by locals.

The program is about much more than dancing. It is about teaching students how to do “bigger and better things,” according to Hansen.

Harvard resident Krissy Duber agreed. Three of her daughters attend dance class at both the Harvard and Delavan Dance Factory locations. Duber and her oldest daughter, Katelyn, 9, had the opportunity to travel to Belize and experience life was in the town of San Pedro. While there, they met a local girl named Zeniah Dixon, who wanted to join the San Pedro Academy but could not afford the monthly cost.

Duber and the Dance Factory got involved and began sponsoring Dixon through a scholarship. Dixon also was provided with a bicycle to travel the 2 miles to dance class every Friday.

“She works hard for it,” Duber said of the scholarship, which has been given to other locals as well. “[But] the scholarships are not just given to anyone. We make sure the students are doing well in school and keep doing well.”

Duber said the trip had an impact on her daughter, and Hansen’s classes have become very important to her family.

“All my kids are dedicated to dance completely,” she said. “They’ve learned integrity, responsibility, teamwork, dedication and how to follow through. Tina is focused on education. It is number one. She does not raise dumb dancers, and her business is one of the strongest ballet schools with certified instructors. Several students have even gone on to perform with Joffrey Ballet.

“It is an amazing place,” she continued. “Dance can change lives. Who knew?”

Hansen said she is involved in what is going on in her students’ lives as well as the students in Belize. Students are held accountable for how they perform academically and how they carry themselves.

“They see the importance of what we are doing, and I love the fact that they all want to be involved,” Hansen said. “That is what speaks the loudest.”

To learn more, visit dancefactoryinc.com.