By Justin Franz, 4-19-12
||Caption: Dance instructor Amy Arriaga, back left, watches as Isabelle Anderson, Hannah Freudenberger, Sophie Binstein and Emma Binstein, left to right, rehearse with fellow dancers in preparation for the Spring Jazz Showcase.- Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
WHITEFISH – Feet raced across a scuffed floor in a second story studio in downtown Whitefish. Each stomp, kick and move was matched by the beat of a nearby boom box, and watching it all was Dance Elements instructor Amy Arriaga.
Arriaga, 30, is originally from California where she first began dancing as a kid. Early on she grew a liking to hip hop, back when it was called street funk. Arriaga said dancing came naturally and soon she realized that “I never wanted to do anything else.” While in California she started teaching, before moving to the Flathead Valley in 2000. After a few years in Montana, she started her own dance school, with a focus on jazz and hip hop.
“I did it on a whim and I didn’t know if it would work,” she said.
Now Arriaga has more than 175 students and teaches up to 17 classes a week in Kalispell and Whitefish. The results of those classes will be put on display at the “All of the Lights” Spring Jazz Showcase on April 20 and 21 in Whitefish. And with a week until opening night, Arriaga and a half-dozen students were busy in the studio.
TAmy Arriaga, founder of Dance Elements, a school for jazz, funk and hip hop, listens as her students critique each other’s practice while preparing for April’s Spring Jazz Showcase.
During each song, one can only hear the beat and the bass, but when the music stopped the room was filled with heavy breathing and laughter. Arriaga said the kids in her class (on this afternoon they were between the ages of 12 and 13) have grown up watching hip hop on television and that the genre has only become more popular.
Television was where Cole Porterfield, 12, first saw hip hop and ever since then he’s wanted to emulate it.
“I love to dance. I go to parties all of the time and I’d just die without dancing,” he said. “It’s also the only thing I’m good at.”
Porterfield plays a central role in one of the dance numbers and, although everything is choreographed, what he enjoys most is how he can improvise.
Arriaga said her students range from toddlers to senior citizens and that all ages will be in the showcase. Her students have been working on their routines since January and there is still a lot to be done. Arriaga keeps an eye on the progress, watching from the back of the room and taking mental notes of how to perfect each student’s performance.
“This is why I do it and I love watching them progress as dancers and as teenagers,” she said with a smile. “This is why I do it and I’ll never stop. I’ll be teaching when I’m 60 years old.”
The showcase starts at 7 p.m. on April 20 and 21 at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center. Tickets sell $18 for adults, $15 for those 12 years old and under. Tickets are available at the Red Union Salon in Whitefish and the Kalispell Athletic Club.
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