AUGUSTA — The sun finally shone on Dance Unlimited’s young dancers this week, just in time for the Augusta dance studio’s 20th anniversary recital performances.

Dancers had their classes interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic in March, then switched to online dance lessons in their homes via Zoom and, more recently, got together for some in-person lessons in the studio’s parking lot.

Still, they danced.

The unusual months of dance lessons culminated, in what was a surprise for many of the 300 or so students, with the chance to show what they’d learned. Family members looked on in person, from a large raised stage setup in the dance studio’s parking lot, complete with its own sound system and a decorated backdrop.

“When you think of kids dancing outside, you picture they’ll be doing a dance for you in a driveway, but we get there and there’s a raised, full stage there with a backdrop, it was better than anything I could have expected,” said Bethany Miller, of Winthrop, whose 13-year-old daughter, Lauren, took many classes and had several performances this week.

“It was a nice surprise. We felt safe and comfortable, yet at the same time it was fun and exciting, even in this crazy time we’re having. You could tell they wanted to do something special for the kids.”

Due a state ban on large gatherings due to the coronavirus, Dance Unlimited, in its 20th anniversary year, was unable to host its large, end-of-year dance recital at an auditorium packed with the dancers’ families. This year’s recitals were performed on the outdoor stage, one class at a time. Once all of the classes — more than 60 of them — had their moment in the spotlight, the recorded performances will be combined and made into a video, which will be given to all dancers.

Weather for a week’s worth of performances was a concern, but the week has been rain-free, if a bit hot. Laura Lewis, owner and artistic director of Dance Unlimited, said the outdoor recitals were a way to give the students a chance to show what they’ve learned onstage, and have their accomplishments recognized.

“The joy on these kids’ faces is phenomenal, just priceless seeing them feeling like they’re a part of something, after all the isolation,” Lewis said of the performance by students who had their school year end abruptly when classrooms, and the dance studio, closed in mid-March. “As a mom I watched the kids lose so much, they had the rug ripped out from under them (by the pandemic). I’m glad we were able to bring a sense of normalcy.

Each day this week, the dance studio hosted a new class performing on the stage every 30 minutes, for four to five hours a day. Depending on the size of the class, dancers at most sessions could have their parents and a few other family members there to watch them perform.

“I think it’s great, people were concerned we wouldn’t be able to do something, but Laura, from day one, said she didn’t know how but she would make it happen,” said Madeline Levesque, 17, a junior at Cony High school and an eight-year dancer and member of Dance Unlimited’s senior performance company. “To not have a recital would have been heartbreaking, especially to our seniors.”

Thursday afternoon, a half-dozen aspiring ballerinas, ages 9 to 11, took to the stage to perform, as Lewis oversaw the recital and instructor Bri Killam danced where her students could see the moves of the routine — in case they needed someone to follow. The young dancers moved their arms in graceful sweeping motions, danced on their toes  and leapt several times, their families cheering and clapping when they finished.

They skipped a move in which the dancers would kneel on the stage, because the black surface of the stage had gotten hot in the afternoon sun. A tent was setup next to the stage, providing shade for dancers while they weren’t performing.

The stage was occasionally watered down, between performances, to help keep it from being too hot for dancers’ feet. Other precautions, these related to preventing the potential spread of the coronavirus, were taken too, including sanitizing seating between performances and making sure dancers sanitized their hands, and had their temperatures checked, before dancing together.

Lauren Dow’s two daughters — Denise, 9, and Annie, 6 — danced Wednesday.

“It was beautiful. It was super unconventional. But Laura, who kept telling people we’re still dancing, made it memorable but also safe for everybody,” said Dow of Augusta. “That experience for the kids, you can’t just cancel something like that. The kids have been working hard since September.”

Dow said while the dance lessons were virtual, her daughters practiced dancing in the family’s living room.

Miller’s daughter practiced in their foyer, “a room big enough she doesn’t kick anything, or anyone,” she said.

Her daughter, Lauren, said she missed not being able to dance and visit with the friends she has made through dance, so she was glad to have a recital, even if it was different.

She said they had to alter their routines, and could not do any dances that involved contact with dance partners.

Students, who were not required to perform at the recitals, also received their medals for completing their classes. The dancers posed for photographs, as all end-of-year activities were combined for the in-person event.

Since June 1, the studio hosted students for a few rehearsals each in the parking lot, but without the stage. The stage was kept a secret — from most dancers — until the performers showed up.

“The students work really hard and this is the culmination of their education,” Lewis said. “So even though they’d been dancing in their living rooms, they were still working hard. It’s important to celebrate and give them some recognition. And with it also being our 20th anniversary, we had to celebrate that.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.