Stephanie Moss connects with kids through the universal language of dance.
The former professional ballet dancer and long-time instructor has been leading the Orcas Elementary and Middle School students in dance exploratory sessions thanks to a grant from the Orcas Island Education Foundation.
“I’m a firm believer that dance is a healthy exploration of the soul,” said Moss. “It’s great exercise and it can be very healing. I’ve seen kids who are broken in other areas of their life have a light come on when they start moving. Dance crosses social, economic and racial boundaries.”
Originally from Maryland, Moss received training at Frederick School of Classical Ballet, North
Carolina School of the Arts, Houston Ballet Academy, and Interlochen Arts Academy. She spent two years in the trainee program at Milwaukee Ballet, performing with the company. In 1993, Mrs. Moss joined Nashville Ballet for five years. In 2003, she launched a non-profit dance studio in Seattle called Momentum. She taught ballet, jazz and more to 650 adults and kids, some of whom were off-island homeschooled students enrolled through Orcas School’s alternative learning program called OASIS.
Moss and her husband Brian, who is a pastor at Orcas Island Community Church, moved to Orcas in August 2015. OASIS teacher Patricia Slabaugh remembered Moss because some of her students participated in Momentum’s dance program.Slabaugh approached her about teaching at Orcas School, and applied for a grant through the Orcas Island Education Foundation for the 2017 school year.
In February, Moss led a 9-week dance exploratory with the sixth through eighth grade classes. In April, she started a six-week course with the kindergarten through fifth graders.
“I’ve incorporated ballet, modern and jazz for the kids, but we are still starting from the seven basic moments of dance,” said Moss. “I modified it depending on the ages and attention spans. The classes also teach them discipline, structure and following directions.”
Volunteer dancers from the third, fourth and fifth grade will perform different periods of the waltz during the music program’s final concert of the year on Thursday, May 18 at 7 p.m. in the high school gym (new not old). Instructor Pamela Wright’s students are exploring the history of the waltz, and she asked Moss to create choreography to accompany it. Jaylen Henderson, who is dancing in the concert with Kameah Monahan, says they have learned how to box step and “dance comfortably” with another person.
The two were also able to rattle off the French terms for the seven basic dance movements: plier, etendre, glisser, relever, sauter, tourner and elancer.
“We’re learning new things and when we mess up, we just laugh more,” said Scarlet Coffey.
Her partner Eddie Cunningham said that besides recess, dance class is the “only time we get to move.”
“The kids have worked really hard,” said Moss. “Most public schools don’t have visual arts and dance in their programming. Students in these type of classes may never be exposed to dance.”
Moss also teaches kids ages 3 to 14 through Orcas Park and Rec and leads a tap class at Odd Fellows, a modern class at Orcas Center and ballet at Jean Hengison’s A Place to Dance. One of her ballet students, Skylar Dalusio, has just been accepted into the summer program at Evergreen City Ballet in Seattle. Moss once taught there herself, instructing Orcas Islanders Kalie McGinnis and Hailey Averna when they were young.
The Mosses have five children: Haley and Levi attend Orcas High School; twins Ethan and Isaac are in the elementary school; and Ezra is at Children’s House. Her twins have been in her dance class at Orcas School. This past year, audiences have seen Moss on stage with the Island Inspirational All-Stars led by Anthony the Dancer.
“I’ve spent the last decade of my life taking care of others,” said Moss. “I haven’t been able to carve out time for myself to do what I love. I didn’t realize it would be part of my life on Orcas. It’s been very healing.”