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“Illuminating” Ames with contemporary dance

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The “Illuminate Contemporary Dance Concert” will be held on Saturday at the Ames City Auditorium.

On Saturday, “Illuminate: Contemporary Dance Concert” will feature Robert Thomas Dancenter Dancers, working dance professionals and participants from community outreach efforts, at the Ames City Auditorium.

The concert hopes to provide a dance experience for kids in the Ames community and expose people to contemporary dance. The concert will also feature working dance professionals and Dancecenter alum from across the country. 

“I think that contemporary dance is misunderstood, and I think the only way to combat that is to educate people,” said Maureen McGrath, director and choreographer for the Dancenter Dancers.

McGrath has been with the Robert Thomas Dancenter since 2000. Robert Thomas and his wife Miyoko Thomas started the studio in 1978 and have trained more than 10,000 dancers. She said the catalyst for the Illuminate Dance Concert was to expose the next generation of dancers to something new and show Robert Thomas the long-running impact he has had on the Ames community. 

“He has given this whole community a gift,” McGrath said. 

Outreach teams from the Dancenter have also been teaching choreography to the Boys and Girls Club of Story County, Ames Community Preschool Center and physical education classes at the St. Cecilia Catholic School.  

“I think dance shouldn’t feel pretentious,” McGrath said. “It should be open and accessible to everyone.”

Molly Neal-Wong is president of the Dancenter Dancer Company Foundation and says the support from the community, along with grants from Discover Ames and Greater Iowa Credit Union, has been fundamental in putting together the concert. 

“We’re optimistic that it will become an annual event and will grow, and the outreach will be even larger next year,” Neal-Wong said. 

Inger Cooper is a Dancenter Dancer alum and freelance artist based in Brooklyn, New York. She choreographed a piece for the concert and will also be dancing in another. She hopes that Illuminate will inspire other dancers across the state to introduce more contemporary work into what they do. 

“I really hope this is something that inspires other artists in Iowa to continue to push the boundaries in terms of what dance is acceptable for an audience to watch,” Cooper said. 

Cooper has been dancing since the age of three and has been taught and mentored by McGrath ever since. Just like the impact McGrath had on her, she has discovered that dance is most meaningful when she works to open up opportunities for others. 

“I realized the more I focus less about me performing and more about creating space for others to perform, the more impact I was able to create,” Cooper said. 

Tickets for “Illuminate: Contemporary Dance Concert” can be purchased here.

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