Dancer Loved The Shoes First, And The Rest Came Easily

PEOPLE OF MERIT

September 08, 1991|By Dolly Merritt

It was a red pair of ballet slippers that first caught the eyes of Donna Harrington-Payne when she was 6 years old. When a classmate who brought the shoes to school told Payne she would have to join a ballet class in order to get her own slippers, the young girl couldn't resist the temptation.

The rest is history for the classical dancer, whose red slippers led her through the Royal Academy of Dancing in South Wales, England, the Royal Ballet School in London, and the LondonSchool of Performing Arts.

Today, 25 years later, the dancer is sharing her knowledge and training with the staff of the Kinetics Dance Theatre in Ellicott City.The Baltimore County resident

"Our focus is to enrich dancers," said Harrington-Payne, 31. "We want to make them more aware that they have to know how to do modern dance, even if they are classical dancers, and vice-versa. . . . There are so many out-of-work dancers who can only do one thing.

From the beginning, the 31-year-old self-proclaimed perfectionist says she loved the discipline of dance.

"I had high expectations of myself and I pushed myself to the limits. I enjoy the discipline and the details of my training, the nitty gritty things like body placement," she said.

It was during her stint at the London School of Performing Arts, where she was awarded a full scholarship, that she discovered how much she enjoyed teaching dance.

"Sometimes I taught children as a substitute for my teacher. I discovered I had a good feel for how to train a dancer's body and the children really loved my classes," she said.

Harrington-Payne also discovered her talent for choreography, and in 1978 won first place in the London Choreographic Competition.

"I had to make a choice as to how I was best able to express myself," she said. "I love people and I love communicating, verbally as well as physically. . . . I have two great loves -- the first is people and then comes dance."

The choice was made in 1978, when Harrington-Payne began teaching classical ballet at the Mercator Ballet School in Antwerp, Belgium. During her two years there, she also choreographed dance productions for television.

In 1981, she traveled to Baltimore and made a point of visiting the Baltimore Ballet in order to compare American and European dance styles. The director invited Harrington-Payne to teach a class and was so impressed she offered her a teaching contract.

"Dancersare so nomadic. I thought, 'What the heck; I think I will bite the bullet and go for it.' It was the best decision I have made," she said.

Harrington-Payne spent two years with the Baltimore Ballet, followed by teaching jobs at the Washington Ballet and at the Baltimore School for the Arts. When her son was born 3 1/2 years ago, she openedher own Baltimore-based dance school, the American Dance Center, above Bertha's Restaurant in Fells Point.

She relocated in 1988 to a more spacious studio in Columbia, where many of her students lived.

Since then the school has had a steady enrollment of 35 students who aspire to be professional classical ballet dancers. One former student recently was accepted at the American Ballet Theatre in New York.

"They have to really love it to be with me. I am a tough teacher,I will admit that," said Harrington-Payne.

The merger of her studio with the Kinetics School of Dance followed a series of talks with Dorothy Fried, founder and executive director of the Kinetics Dance Theatre.

The two met for the first time last spring after Payne read a newspaper article that said Fried was considering resigning for health reasons.

Because of a "camaraderie among dance teachers" andbecause of a commitment to "give back" to the community, Payne telephoned Fried and offered to volunteer any service that was needed.

Later, the two women met for lunch and discovered that they shared many common interests.

"We never stopped talking to each other and we never had a bite of lunch," Harrington-Payne said.

After weeks of deliberation about the school's goals and directions, the Kinetics School of Dance will open its doors tomorrow at two locations -- the Howard County Center for the Arts in Ellicott City and at Harrington-Payne's former dance studio in Columbia.

Serious dancers, she says, require "constant nurturing and dedication," so she is integrating a special program at Kinetics for students who are pursuing a career in dance. Ballet and modern dance techniques will both be included inthe class. Another program, geared toward less-serious students, will incorporate ballet, modern, jazz and tap into the classes.

Otherprograms introduced into the fall schedule will be a pre-school program offering dance basics for children, ages 3 to 6. A Music and Movement Enrichment program will be offered to children ages 2 to 4 with developmental disabilities. It is a program of special interest to Harrington-Payne since she will be enrolling her son, Alexander, who isautistic.

An apprentice dancers class will provide performance opportunities to young dancers. "It's a good idea because it is like a little dance company, teaching discipline and what one can expect when dancing in a professional dance company," Harrington-Payne said.

Another emphasis will be attracting boys into the programs.

The teacher hopes eventually to place students who have chosen dance as a profession and who have trained at the school into the Kinetics dancecompany.

For herself, Harrington-Payne does not regret giving up a career as a performer.

"I much prefer seeing people perform. . .. I'd rather be training people to dance and seeing the things I like to create. I love watching people who are strong enough to dance mydreams for me."

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