By Angela Seals, Cultural Office
The Pikes Peak region is home to over 30 dance schools and companies, exploring a spectrum of creative movement including from ballet, jazz, and hip hop to Irish step, tap, and classical Indian dance. During Arts Month 2021, one of the centerpieces of the local dance community is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
Ormao Dance School & Company is home to a professional modern dance company, dance classes for all ages and skill levels, and award-winning community outreach programs. Ormao (pronounced or-MY-oh) stems from the ancient Greek term signifying “movement with force.”
This spirit captures the power of the dance company’s artistic experimentation, as it has performed in construction zones, art museums, abandoned warehouses, and parking lots with a diverse array of collaborators, and it’s “spirit of YES,” according to founder, Jan Johnson.
“There wasn’t a lot of dance activity going on when I moved here. So I started asking people, ‘if I build it will you join me?’ A big part of what has helped us to grow is moving from a place of gratitude and saying YES,” Johnson says.
“We like to show up in strange places and engage people in something they weren’t planning on doing, performing for totally new and unsuspecting audiences.”
Like many dance groups, Ormao began with an internal focus on the dancers – creating new work they were interested in and that they could perform well. But as the company matured, “we’ve become much more outwardly focused,” Johnson says. “Our view has become much broader. We have access to nationally and internationally recognized choreographers now, which has expanded our quality, and the community work is now huge for us.”
So huge, in fact, that Ormao has been one of the leaders of a local expansion of programs that extend dancing into new arenas and for nontraditional dance audiences. Their programs include “Mathtastic” which explores mathematics principles through dance for local school student programs, and the “Hands are for Holding” program. Mounted locally by Ormao, it brings a nationally-renowned curriculum into D11 schools that uses movement to spark conversation about healthy relationships, bullying, and equity. Ormao’s “Dance for Parkinson’s” program leads people living with Parkinson’s through therapeutic and creative movement. Other local dance organizations are also expanding inclusive dance offerings, like Kemper Dance Academy’s “JEDI” program for young dancers with special abilities, from Downs Syndrome to autism.
Jordan McHenry, Executive Director of the Dance Alliance of the Pikes Peak Region, says that exploring the full spectrum of movement is key to dance’s relevance for all people.
“Creative movement comes at such an early age – before we speak, we move creatively! Connecting that throughout our life, through all shapes and forms, is critical and natural for a place like Colorado Springs that is centered in health and movement. Every body dances.”
“What Jan and Ormao have done is maintain an integrity about dance as a conceptual fine art and not just entertainment,” adds McHenry. “They have clearly defined that dance can be intellectually challenging – in body and space – and deliver more to us than tricks and turns.”
NOTE: This article was originally published in the 2021 Cultural Office Guide to Arts Month, crafted in partnership with the Colorado Springs Gazette and published as an insert in the paper on Oct. 3, 2021. See the digital copy in its entirety at https://issuu.com/springsgazette/docs/cultural_office_guide_to_arts_month_2021