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Roma Martin ERB
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By Amy Backes
From its beginning, Missouri Contemporary Ballet traveled to studios in different cities in Missouri, including Columbia Dance Academy, Dancer’s Alley in Jefferson City, and Presser Performing Arts Center in Mexico, simply for a place to rehearse. Almost six years later, the company is still traveling, but not in the same nomadic way. This time, it is traveling to perform for audiences all around the state and nation.
Artistic and executive director Karen Mareck Grundy, a Las Vegas native, founded Missouri Contemporary Ballet in July 2006. In a move that matches her bold personality, she made the switch from dancer to director early in her career. She’s the force behind MCB, managing nearly all aspects of the non-profit, professional ballet company and choreographing many pieces for its shows.
Karen found permanent studio space in Columbia. The tin building with bright red window frames, now known as Orr Street Studios, was once a produce warehouse. Now the building houses art studios, businesses, and a coffee shop with a window looking into the dance studio so patrons can watch the company rehearse. Often, artists perch on tall chairs outside to watch rehearsal, using the dancers’ movements as inspiration for their own works of art.
When the dancers perform on stage, the audience sees nothing but grace, beauty, fluidity, and movement in perfect unison. The women complete picturesque turns and the men lift them effortlessly. Everything is seamless. But after the dancers come off stage, aches and pains surface. Reality sets in.
The dancers work through their soreness daily, trying to ignore the pain and continue dancing. Elise Eslick wraps a blue heating pad around her feet while standing in the dressing room before a performance. She has Haglund’s deformity, a bony bump on the back of her heel that rubs against her shoes. The tissue around her Achilles tendon becomes irritated and causes painful inflammation between the bone and tendon. Sometimes during practice, she’ll close her blue eyes and wince because of the pain. She ices her sore heels and takes pain medication regularly. Doctors have suggested a surgery that would lengthen her Achilles tendon, but that would mean being in a boot for eight months without dancing. For her, that’s not an option. So she works through the pain.
The dancers’ schedule isn’t an easy one. They arrive at the studio and begin at 9 am every weekday. They have ballet or jazz technique classes until 10:30 am, and then they rehearse, eat lunch, and rehearse again until 3 pm. After leaving the studio, the dancers work second and third jobs to help supplement their pay. Elise holds a part-time job at Starbucks to cover living expenses in Columbia.
Last season, Jena Ferrigno, a former trainee from Pennsylvania, worked as a waitress on top of the 30-plus hours a week she spent dancing. Trainees weren’t compensated, and their pointe shoes weren’t paid for like the company members’ are. During morning technique classes, she avoided dancing in her pointe shoes. Costing anywhere from $40 to $80 per pair, she made them last as long as possible. When the flat, hard toe of the shoe, “the box,” would get soft from continual use, she covered it with Jet Glue, an instant glue that hardens to make the box last a little longer.
MCB has sometimes struggled to raise operating money. In the past, both the Missouri Arts Council and Columbia’s Office of Cultural Affairs provided MCB with grants. In 2011, the Missouri Arts Council presented a grant of $21,267. MCB also holds its own fundraisers, the biggest being Dancing with Missouri Stars in May, based on the television show Dancing with the Stars.