Pine Orchard studio attracts distinctive clientele of adult, child dancers

June 10, 1994|By Patrick Hickerson | Patrick Hickerson,Contributing Writer

When Kathi Ferguson opened Aesthetics Dance Studio in 1990, she hoped the Pine Orchard location near U.S. 40 would tap into a need for dance instruction in western Howard County.

Another studio opened at the same time, in the same part of the county, followed by several others in other parts of the county.

Four years later, however, Ms. Ferguson can claim a distinctive portion of the market: adults. Her clientele is usually almost evenly split between children and adults, unusual in such a child-oriented service. This year marks the first time that most of her 150 students are children.

This weekend, the studio will present its third annual Spring Dance Concert at Centennial High School, drawing on dancers from all age levels.

The featured work of the concert is "The Nightingale," based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Ms. Ferguson choreographed the work this year to music by Ravel.

The tale is about a Chinese emperor who demands that a nightingale singing in his realm be captured for his own enjoyment. Once detained, the bird is supplanted by a mechanical one that appears to replicate it. The real bird then flees back to the woods. The emperor and his courtiers believe they have the better of the two birds until it breaks down.

The cast of "The Nightingale" is topped by Thomas Bell of the Sacramento Ballet, who will play the emperor, and Jill O'Donnell of Towson, who will play the nightingale. Mr. Bell is from Baltimore County.

Ms. O'Donnell, a 23-year-old Towson State University graduate, recently performed as a soloist in "Pacquita" at Goucher College. She is in her first year as a teacher of ballet and a pre-professional class at Aesthetics.

She said the most challenging part of the role in Ms. Ferguson's work is its slight deviation from ballet.

"It's not exactly classical ballet, and it's a little modern," she said. "She does it a little different."

This weekend's work is the second of two productions this season for the studio. The first, "Alice in Wonderland," had a cast of 65 dancers, mainly younger students.

This weekend's cast has about 30 children, plus professional dancers. The program's second half includes jazz, tap and modern works with an international theme. Aesthetics staff members Juliet Forrest and Rita Snyder will perform.

Richard Richards, formerly of the Royal Ballet of Flanders and a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University, will dance with Ms. Snyder in "Le Corsaire."

Ms. Ferguson stressed that support from parents has been tremendous at Aesthetics. Thirty parents have helped both productions in jobs ranging from sewing costumes to producing the program.

The philosophy behind the Aesthetics Dance Studio is neither traditional nor unconventional.

"I wanted to create a dance studio that teaches both art forms, modern and ballet. The dancer that learns both learns faster," she said.

And you won't find Ms. Ferguson, a petite, soft-spoken director, leading a class by pounding out beats with a cane as the stereotypically stern dance teacher.

"Here, everybody is positive toward each other. We don't get bogged down in the competitiveness," she said.

A native of Washington, Ms. Ferguson has danced for such professional companies as the Baltimore Ballet, the Northern Ballet Theater in Michigan and the Classical Ballet Theater in Arlington, Va. Since 1985, she has been a lecturer in dance at Goucher College.

"At Goucher, I learned how to produce productions. I teach all levels at Goucher, and I teach all levels here."

Her previous work experience away from dance has helped in her role as manager of a studio. She was a loan officer for American Express during the 1970s in West Germany, which comes in handy with accounting at Aesthetics. Her husband, Doug, who has a master's degree in management, has assisted.

After five years of dance instruction in Howard County, Aesthetics is starting to enlarge its commitment: The studio expanded last fall to an adjacent unit at the office building.

Aesthetics Dance Studio will present its third annual Spring Dance Concert at 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at Centennial High School, 4300 Centennial Lane, Ellicott City. Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. Information: 465-8233.

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