Morris County Vocational School District Academy for the Performing Arts Dance Program Celebrates 20th Year

By Steve Sears

10 Hairy Legs: 2019 Commissioned Work, Larry Keigwin’s “Cruise Control”, Photo: Nina Wurtzel @Hudson Valley Dance Festival

The Morris County Vocational School District Academy for the Performing Arts Dance program is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a special concert on May 15.

The event will be held at County College of Morris in Randolph. 

MCVSD head Dance instructor, Lisa Peluso, has been working hard to combine the artistry of seasoned alumni and professional artists to make the special production in May happen. The well thought out and planned, 12-piece program should last about two hours.

Ruth Clark, the program’s founder back in 2000, will also attend that evening and speak about the program’s history. Peluso herself was a student of Clark’s while the latter was a professor at Montclair State University.

“I’m excited about it,” says Peluso, who has been at MCVSD since 2015 and is in charge of planning the May event. “I’m having a good time because I get to bring all the partners together that’s helped the program grow – obviously the founder, Ruth Clark – and a lot of the guest artists who are performing who have their own companies and who have worked with the students, they’re performing.” Regarding collaboration with the three companies – 10 Hairy Legs (the first guest artist to work with the program), Freespace Dance, and Von Howard Project – she says, “They’re all really New Jersey-based dance companies, all professional, and all three have been around I think for over a decade.” The evening also highlights current students, dance program alumni (some from the initial graduating class

Freespace Dance: Photographer: Anthony Johnson, Dance Piece: Narratography, Lisa Grimes,

in 2004), and the County College of Morris Dance program. Peluso also knows many of the alum who will take part, because she was a guest artist near the program’s 2000 inception.

Krystal Beck is Morris Hills Regional District Supervisor of Social Studies and Supervisor Academy for the Performing Arts. “The Academy for the Performing Arts is a full-time, comprehensive high school program that offers students a unique high school experience combining focused and comprehensive academics with Career and Technical Education classes in the respective career area” she says. “The Morris County Academy for the Performing Arts is housed at Morris Knolls High School and is open to any student in Morris County through a competitive application process and audition. Students apply in the fall of their eighth-grade year and have a choice among three majors: dance, theatre, and vocal performance.” She then speaks to the attraction of the program. “Students have the opportunity to fulfill their graduation requirements while following their passion to develop their craft. Being a part of the academy affords students the unique opportunity to enroll in rigorous course work, work in state-of-the-art facilities, participate in master class workshops, and work with seasoned professionals from each field.”

The Academy for the Performing Arts Dance Program is tailored to prep students who seek careers right after high school or perhaps take up the same in college. Also, completion of the course often prepares the students for other

Dance for 20th Anniversary photos: courtesy of Morris County Vocational School District Academy for the Performing Arts Dance program

careers outside of dance, like technical theater, nutrition, and other related careers the department touches on in its curriculum. “What I noticed that they leave with which is great,” says Peluso, “is a lot of leadership skills, because their sophomore and junior year they get to choreograph their own pieces.” Students schedule auditions, research their piece, music and costume choices, hold an audition, then finally cast their piece. “They see it from the beginning all the way to the end,” Peluso adds with satisfaction.

Peluso says of May 15, “Hopefully it will be a great way to honor dance that’s been here in this county, at the Morris County Vocational School District. I think we a lot of the time put a lot of focus on non-arts things, and I think it’s really nice to do something. I’ve been here for 20 years, and it’s been supported.”

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