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MLK Ballet's MOVE! series turns 21

Contemporary dance hits its mark in Tacoma

"MOVE! #21": "It Is My Existence," choreography by Jade Solomon Curtis. Photo credit: Nate Watters

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MLK Ballet is a ballet school that thrives on a unique concept in this ever-expensive world: completely free tuition for its students. The non-profit offers free ballet lessons to kids ages 6 to 12, but goes above and beyond by setting up students with ballet uniforms, shoes and opportunities to perform as well. In turn, the performances by MLK not only enrich the lives of its students, but also have become a vital part of Tacoma's theater scene - a Mobius strip of arts and culture symbiosis.

Of course, while the students have access to free tuition, all of this isn't really free. MLK Ballet must raise funds to support the awesomeness. Performances throughout the year and donations are key, but one of the biggest ways the school supports itself is through an annual performance called MOVE!, which just happens to be in its 21st incarnation this year.

That's right. MOVE! is now old enough to have a few drinks - and it deserves them.

Since its beginnings in 2006 (the number 21 denotes that this is the 21st show, not the 21st year), MOVE! has popped up in different types of venues around town and sometimes had more than one performance per year.

This year, there will be just one show, which will be held May 10 at the Theatre on the Square.

"MLK Ballet has worked over the years to find creative ways to raise funds for its programs," said Faith Stevens, executive director of MLK Ballet. "MOVE! is one of the earliest and biggest ways we've gone about doing that.  The idea of presenting an amazing show that otherwise might not happen in Tacoma, as a way of giving something of value to not only the city, but to an audience as well, has been an integral way we've gone about raising funds."

For all 21 performances, the goal has remained the same - present contemporary dance in Tacoma.

MOVE! brings in many of the region's best choreographers and companies, who often donate their time to create this full-length show.

>>> MOVE! #21: "It Is My Existence," choreography by Jade Solomon Curtis. Photo credit: Nate Watters

This year's show will feature work from Vincent Michael Lopez, a choreographer and former dancer with Spectrum Dance Theater (SDT); Jade Solomon Curtis, a current dancer with SDT; Lilianna Koledin, formerly of Alloy Dance Project; a local student choreographer, Celeste Reed, from SOTA; and many others.  

Past shows have featured Shannon Stewart, The Maureen Whiting Company, Ezra Dickinson, Bridge Dance Project, Tacoma City Ballet, to name a few. The intermingling of top talent with learning students creates opportunities for students to gain a wider exposure to the world of dance.

"Rather than a traditional studio recital, we have our students perform dance pieces as part of the program for MOVE!," Stevens said. "It allows them not only to have the experience of performing on stage, but also gives them a chance to see many, many different types of dance and dancers. Having our kids backstage watching other companies go through their tech rehearsals is always so much fun and really a great opportunity for them to see all the different forms that dance can take."

Stevens also promises some special surprises this year, but will only say that they've become a little more creative with the space and the show will happen on and off stage.

In the past year, MLK Ballet provided free lessons to 25 students. Since the school began in 2006, Stevens estimates that close to 200 students have made their way through the children's classes. Student stories include tales of homeless children finding not only a non-judgmental place to belong, but also an avenue to self-worth and working hard toward a goal. Students who started at MLK Ballet have moved on to outfits such as the Tacoma City Ballet Company and Washington Contemporary Ballet. MLK Ballet also offers affordable classes for teens and adults, which have had close to 125 students.

For more information, visit

MOVE! #21, 7 p.m., Saturday, May 10, Theatre on the Square, 915 Broadway, Tacoma, $20, 253.591.5894

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