Walk into Ormao Dance Company’s downtown Spruce Street studios, and depending on the day and time, you might find 4-year-olds practicing pliés and 50-somethings shuffling tap shoes, professional modern dancers mentoring teens, Soul Mechanics members popping and locking, or UCCS students prepping for a show.
Inclusive and inviting are not just talking points at Ormao; they’re a philosophy. “Dance is for everybody,” says founder and artistic director Jan Johnson.
It’s a philosophy that’s working for Ormao. Ormao’s beginnings, 25 years ago, came out of Johnson’s humble “If I build it, will you come?” seed of an idea to fill a need in the area for a professional modern dance company. During the following five years, Ormao slowly added classes for kids. In the years since, it has expanded into what it is today: a nonprofit that also includes three pre-professional student performing groups, an all-ages dance school and an educational arm called Mathtastic that teaches math to elementary school students through movement.
In many ways, Ormao’s work simply reflects the history of modern dance. In its 1920s infancy, Johnson explains, the art form was a rebellion against the highly codified practice of ballet. “ ‘Modern’ as in we are going to be an ‘of the people, for the people,’ sort of dance style,” she says. “No shoes. No specific costuming. … Driven by concepts and ideas.”
Over time, modern dance has become much more defined, in regard to training and preparation. This is evident in the variety of classes Ormao now offers.
“Modern dancers today have to have ballet training and training in the pioneers of modern dance—like your Graham techniques, your Limon techniques, your Horton techniques—that are very specific. …” Johnson says. “That’s because what modern dance is today is a crazy melting pot of different choreographers’ ideas.”
All-ages classes—30-some a week, in more than 10 different styles—with local teachers though, aren’t the only way Ormao provides varied training opportunities. The school also invites guests from top national and international companies, such as Mike Tyus from the highly acclaimed 45-year-old Pilobolus Dance Theater, four to six times a year to offer workshops. It’s also common for Ormao alumni to return for short stints to teach, choreograph and share what they’ve learned through their professional dance careers with top national companies such as Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Rioult Dance NY.
Of course, much of Ormao’s success and longevity have come as a result of its ability to partner across the community. As Daisy McGowan, director and curator of the UCCS Galleries of Contemporary Art (GOCA), says, “GOCA has been fortunate to collaborate with Ormao to produce multiple innovative and award-winning performances in our exhibits, as well as playing host to four Lunch Beat noontime dance events. Breaking boundaries and pushing expectations to the limits is the rule, not the exception with Ormao, and when asked to collaborate, Jan is a delight in her openness and willingness to stretch.”
The studio has also worked on the annual Green Box Arts Festival with New York City-based Kegwin & Company to expand dance opportunities in Green Mountain Falls. And the company has set site-specific choreography at venues including the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, GOCA, and most recently Press/Prepress at the Gazette’s former print shop and storage warehouse.
As Ormao moves into its next 25 years, Johnson says its philosophy will continue to expand as the board, company members and teachers make one question their focus: “What can we do out there with more people of all ages [so that dance] is not this scary thing?”
Classes and performances are always available on a drop-in basis, but in honor of its 25th anniversary, Ormao is offering a season pass, on sale only during September. Among other benefits, this year’s pass includes discounted tickets to the 2016-17 professional company concert season and to November’s site-specific show Prepress, Nov. 12-13, which pulls together Shawn Womack from Colorado College and Glen Whitehead from UCCS at the former Gazette warehouse.
Learn more at ormaodance.org.