South Lane Ballet Academy dazzles at Bohemia Park

Located on 10th Street, across from Bohemia Park, sits a studio where youth of all ages learn various forms of modern dance. On Friday evening (June 24) and Saturday morning (June 25) of last week, audience members witnessed the cumulation of the hard work that both local dancers and teachers had invested in their craft.

While the South Lane Ballet Academy has held its June recitals at Lane Community College (LCC) in the past, last week’s production signified the second year in a row that Bohemia Park was the hosting venue.

Mandy Conforth is the academy administrator and director of South Lane Ballet Academy. “We are a nonprofit 501(c)(3) dance studio,” she told the Sentinel. “We teach kids ages three to 18 ballet, jazz, modern, hip-hop, and contemporary dance. We have around 100 students and are open seven days a week for classes.

Conforth spoke about what it was like for the ballet academy to put on a production at Bohemia Park. “Although it’s super fun, it’s really challenging. With even just set up, we have to build a stage, and dressing rooms; we have to bring in a camp trailer, security, and bathrooms. Keeping the kids safe can be kind of challenging with being in such an open area,” she said.
Over the years, the recital has grown large enough from increased student participation that it is now held on two separate days.

“We divide the show up into two [recitals] because otherwise, our backstage is chaos,” Conforth continued. “Typically, we put on two productions a year. At Christmas, we put on a short and sweet version of The Nutcracker that we hold inside our studio space which is a very intimate, small group. Then, once a year, we do a spring production that is themed somehow. This year we did a book theme.”

Dancers performed to the themes of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Treasure Island, Harry Potter, How to Train Your Dragon, etc.  Friday evening’s recital featured the upper- and middle-aged dancers. For Saturday morning’s show, the upper-level dancers again and younger-aged dancers put their skills on display. 

Conforth said that she took over the dance studio that houses South Lane Ballet Academy about twelve years ago but that she has had a passion for dance nearly her entire life. At just three years of age, she began her dance career learning ballet and tap dancing.

“My parents were ballroom dancers,” Conforth shared, “and when I was 15 my mom said, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’ and I said I wanted to have a dance studio in Cottage Grove because dance studios move in and move out in a year. Somebody else actually started this dance studio. We were an offshoot of Eugene Ballet… It had only been in existence for about a year before that. Now, twelve years in and we’ve had a beautiful show every year.”

While teaching students the art of dance is an additional passion of the ballet academy director, she said she also sees the impact her role has had in the lives of her students: “I love the kids; they are amazing. They are inspiring. They can also be challenging. Especially in the last two years, they have had their own challenges… emotional challenges and family challenges. Our studio is not somewhere you just drop your kid off and then pick them up; there is this relationship we are all having... It’s hard to go home at night and not think about who’s going through a rough time.”

Presale tickets for the June 24 and 25 recitals were $12; at the door, they were $15 (these are the same prices that the academy charged for tickets at the LCC venue). The dancers gave a spectacular performance.

“The cost is $7,000 to put on the production. To earn the money to pay for that, we sell tickets; then the excess goes to scholarships. We give away thousands every year in scholarships. We have to put on the show in order for our students to get that scholarship money to continue [with their education],” said Conforth.

The recital had a near-packed house at Bohemia Park on Friday evening, and Saturday morning was almost just as full. However, things didn’t go off without a hitch. Unfortunately, while performing at an outdoor facility like Bohemia Park brings with it a lot of great experiences, it also comes with a set of its own challenges: severe weather and dealing with vandals being among them.

With weather having been projected to be in the 90-degree range for both days of the recital, the studio took what it learned from its 2021 production when it was 110 degrees and applied it to this year.

Said Conforth, “Most of our upper-level dancers have good stamina. We work with them in the studio for hours on end, so they are used to a little bit of heat, but we usually have air-conditioning. What we did this time was work with them outdoors a little bit. We also had coolers of water, cooling towels, and fans in every room.”

And as for the vandals, “Sadly, we had people come into the [outdoor production] space and damage items, throw things on the ground, wipe pizza all over the ground where we were working, and even burn holes in a canopy,” Conforth said.

Event security had to run off several people from the site as they continued to come back each night that the sight in use.

“As a nonprofit, it was a challenge to put on such a production locally as there is no venue made for large events. The cost is astronomical to set it up from ground zero. Unfortunately, the cost in time and money increases when people don’t set boundaries for themselves. But even through the hardships of the weekend, the dancers put on a beautiful show,” Conforth added.

South Lane Ballet Academy hires people from all over Oregon, Washington, and California to come teach, and all those involved with the studio plan to continue working with kids well into the future. Class registration for the fall starts in August. In July, the academy will host several camps for younger children. Additional camps for older kids take place in August. For more information about these events and others, people can visit the South Lane Ballet Academy Facebook page.

“I adore the kids. Families are amazing, kids are amazing, but it’s also a challenging part. You are so embedded in their lives, and they are so embedded in yours that when something happens to them it happens to you. When they struggle, or mom or dad losses a job, you feel that, too. They are incredible. It’s an amazing group of people.”