By: Ben Reed, Staff Writer
Urinetown the Musical, as well as other main stage productions and dance curriculum, feature many talents of its onstage performers. Alongside the student performers, behind the scenes comes the work from helping students foster technique and teaching new combinations to students; much of which is never seen by the audience. Of these teachers behind the curtain is Vanessa Beyland, a New York University (NYU) alumni who graduated in 1995 with her BFA in dance. Beyland currently works as a faculty member within the USM department of theater as a dance instructor and choreographer.
Beyland shared that growing up in a very art-friendly household in southern California, this love of dance bloomed. “My dad was, and still is, working in theater. I was one of those kids where you put them in dance classes at age three or four, and I just sort of stuck…” Beyland recounts how she would spend her birthdays as a child at local theaters in Los Angeles to see touring productions of Broadway shows.
Beyland reminisces on a particular event when she began to consider the dance studio as her home. Her dance studio at the time had taken a trip to New York City to see their dance instructor in a production of Jerome Robbins Broadway. “I remember we went to meet her at the stage door, and it was like a turning point. The stage door opened, and she came out, and I was like, ‘I wanna be her,’’’ Beyland stated that dancing and being on Broadway was always the driving force in her aspirations.
When it came time to look at higher education, Beyland both applied to colleges close to home, as well as on the East coast. She was drawn to New York as the place to be, recognizing that the performing arts scene was large in the city. Although she described herself as a homebody as a teenager, Beyland jumped at the opportunity to learn dance at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
New York City is known for its mile-a-minute atmosphere. Beyland spoke on her experience living and learning in a structured program amidst the city’s chaotic nature. Although she knew that moving to New York would be frightening, she counted on the confinement of the program to help her adapt to the exciting qualities the city provided. “There wasn’t time to be homesick; there wasn’t time to worry because every minute of every day was just filled with classes, or shows. You just walked outside and the world was happening,” she says.
The feeling of living in an exciting, ever-changing world was just what Beyland needed, she expressed. After graduating in 1995, Beyland and her husband, a fellow NYU alumni, decided to leave New York in early 2001. Although they loved the city, they wanted more than the work-to-survive lifestyle that the living expenses cost them. After looking in cities all along the East coast, Beyland and her husband found Portland, Maine. They were excited by the vibrant art community that exists there, and made their first house-hunting trip in September, 2001–just a few days after the September 11th attacks in New York City.
Beyland’s work with USM began in 2005. Her colleague, Raymond DuMont, a theater professional who taught at USM at the time, reached out to Beyland to see if she wanted to replace him and teach his musical theater class. Beyland had a brief interview over the phone, and was later offered the job. Her first class taught was called “musical theater dance”, which was only offered in the Spring semesters. At the time, this was the only dance class offered in the course catalog, and only covered the basics of very few dance styles.
Just a few years ago, USM opened its doors to more specific courses that dove deeper into the technique and curriculum of these dance styles, as well as beginning to offer a dance minor to its students. When looking back on her current and past work with students, Beyland was excited at the fact that her dance students signed up to be there; all of them want to dance, while learning and growing their talents. She caters her courses so that they aren’t created for dancers, but instead made to intrigue and fascinate so that her students will want to learn more. She states, “if you have made a connection with dance and the arts, and it has impacted your life in whatever way, then my job is done.”
Although she finds her work to be satisfactory, Beyland can’t help but strive for more levels of dance classes to be available to students, maybe even a dance major. Beyland states how students who have been dancing for the better part of their lives will still be challenged within the current dance classes, but she wants to be able to push these returning dance students with the help of added courses. Beyland also hopes for a bigger space for dancing. While Russell Hall on the Gorham campus is great, Beyland says that she would also appreciate a space just for dance. Another studio just for dancers, she thinks, could yield some improvements for USM’s growing dance student population.
“What I love about USM,” Beyland states, “is that we have the talent, but it’s not so precious that I feel like we’re famous. It’s there for everybody. Art is for everybody, and that’s what it’s all about.” As the spring semester wraps up, Beyland is focusing her attention towards preparing for summer camps and outside studio recitals that she regularly assists with. If you’d like to see more of her work, you may be able to find her choreography showcased in the upcoming 2022-2023 theater season.