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On their toes: Summer Intensive brings superstars to Napa Regional Dance Company

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If you have not seen “A Ballerina’s Tale,” the compelling documentary about Misty Copeland, I highly recommend it.

The film gives the viewer a glimpse into the extraordinary rigor, patience, focus, passion and unbridled talent required for Copeland’s singular achievement as the first female, African-American principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre.

Which brings me to Napa Regional Dance Company (NRDC) — our very own bastion of future Copelands and Baryshnikovs — celebrating 28 years, more than 2,500 students and 16 seasons of the always-charming, community production of “Nutcracker.”

At the helm of this terpsichorean feat is Wanda Martin McGill, the indefatigable founder/executive director and 30-year dance veteran who teaches ballet, jazz and contemporary dance in the company’s studio as well as in classes at Diablo Valley College where she is a member of the dance faculty.

“I was in the apprentice program at Dance Theatre of Harlem and took classes with the Alvin Ailey School while in New York,” McGill shared in describing her early dance education. “I could have joined companies but opted for my career in teaching and went back to complete my graduate teaching credentials in Fine Arts and Dance. I had my first job teaching dance at Napa Valley College.”

To continue to bring more awareness of the dance arts to Napa Valley, McGill has fashioned a third annual, six-week Summer Dance Intensive, open to dancers of all levels, beginning June 20 and featuring an impressive lineup of esteemed dance professionals and master teachers. (Registration information can be found at or call 707-252-4615.)

The schedule includes:

— Robert Dekkers, artistic director of Post Ballet, San Francisco (choreography) – June 20-23;

— Damian Smith, former principal dancer, San Francisco Ballet (personalized coaching) – June 27-30;

— Quinby Kasch and Ariel Soto, Milwaukee Ballet (contemporary, classical) — July 5-7 and July 18-21;

— Grier Cooper, former soloist, American Ballet Theatre and writer (writing for dancers) – July 11-15;

— Raymond Tilton, principal dancer, Diablo Ballet, and Jordan Hammond, corps de ballet, San Francisco Ballet (partnering) – July 25-28.

“Each teacher brings a unique, personalized style and talent to share with these young students,” McGill explained. “This is an educational experience beyond just taking class. These students will be able to ask questions directly to these teachers about how they developed their careers.”

In 2014 NRDC formed the nonprofit Napa Regional Dance Foundation to help support more performance opportunities for young dancers in Napa as well as to bring dancers together with other forms of artistic expression for collaborative projects.

“Our first project,” said foundation president Wendi Moore, “was to bring live symphony music to accompany the annual “Nutcracker” production in December 2015. For the dancers, this adds a challenge to their performance in that the music is less predictable than a recording. They must adjust their dancing in real time. Working with a symphony also compels them to participate in the dialogue between music and movement, an essentially more authentic experience as dancers. We aim to make this an annual event.”

The upcoming Summer Dance Intensive is also a foundation-assisted initiative of NRDC and one part of a three-pronged arts and education project aimed at bringing dance enrichment to local schools and providing quality dance performance to the community. Moore also believes that the experience of dance, from both sides of the curtain, enriches our lives in both the short- and long-term.

Of that, she has firsthand experience: “My oldest daughter started taking ballet lessons at age 5 to be with friends and have an artistic outlet,” Moore said. “Her sister followed at age 4, and my son, Emmett, followed their lead when he was 5. At age 16, he is still dancing with NRDC and will do a four-week intensive this summer at LINES Ballet in San Francisco. While my girls are now in college, both still have dance in their lives.”

For information on all NRDC programs, visit


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