Look into the kaleidoscope

Ava Vigneault and Thea Keen
Ava Vigneault (left) and Thea Keen will perform "Angel White" this weekend in the Kaleidoscope Dance show. Photo by Mary Baker

By Julian Wise - May 31, 2007

For the last 12 years, dancer/choreographer Laura Sargent Hall has been instructing young dancers in both the technical and expressive aspects of movement. In recent years she has taught under the aegis of Kaleidoscope Dance, a school known for its fun, free-flowing artistic creations. This weekend she will present "All the Colors of the Rainbow," a performance featuring 81 dancers ages 3 to 17.

For Ms. Sargent Hall, dance instruction has been an opportunity to fuse fundamental skills with uninhibited self-expression. The Needham native began ballet lessons at the age of three and by age 12 she was assisting her teacher, Paulette Harwood, at her Newton studio. Ms. Sargent Hall attended NYU's Tisch School of the Arts as a dance major and spent several years in New York City before attending graduate school for dance/movement therapy at Antioch University in New Hampshire.

Opting for dance instruction over therapy, Ms. Sargent Hall continued teaching at Paulette's Ballet Studio in Newton where she started the school's modern dance program. In 1995 she started the Sargent School of Ballet on Martha's Vineyard at the former Piatelli Studio in West Tisbury. Over the years she has taught at various locations around the Island. While she has dreamed of building her own space, she calculated that the mortgage costs would force her to charge rates that would put dance instruction out of reach for many students. In 2005 she arranged for off-season use of the Camp Jabberwocky facility, a solution that allows her to provide affordable lessons in a tranquil setting.

Ms. Sargent Hall has balanced dance instruction with family life with husband Brian and children Grace and Ethan. In 2004, after taking time off to raise her children, she began partnering with other dance teachers and renamed her school Kaleidoscope Dance. Throughout the years she had built powerful artistic connections with her students. Two teen students, Ava Castro and Annie Wirtz, have been with her since day one.

"The kids are what it is all about for me," she says. "What I wanted to share with my students, first and foremost, was my love of dance. If they take for one year, or dance for their whole lives, I want them to look back and remember a time that they felt special, important, and good about themselves."

She reports that over the years she has never had a single student refuse to go on stage during a show or break down in tears due to performance stress. "I work them hard, so that they know what they are doing, and they can feel the accomplishment of a year of hard work, but the show is for them," she says.

Throughout her work with students, a theme emerges; learn your dance rudiments, but never lose your creative, youthful spark and your love of movement.

"I have found as a teacher that if the kids do some creative movement along with their ballet or modern classes, they never lose the comfort they have as little kids in making up their own dances and expressing themselves," she says.

Kaleidoscope Dance performance, Friday, June 1, 6 pm and Saturday, June 2, 4 pm, Oak Bluffs School, Tradewinds Rd. $5 suggested donation. 508-627-9503.

Julian Wise is a contributor to The Times.