Project Dance Festival Comes to Paul VI on May 22 and 23

The event begins at 7 p.m. each night at Paul VI.

Julie Cullen, of Hammonton, received the 2010 Project Dance Scholarship and will graduate in May as a Dance Major from Montclair State University.
Julie Cullen, of Hammonton, received the 2010 Project Dance Scholarship and will graduate in May as a Dance Major from Montclair State University.
Preparation for college, the establishment of life-long friendships, learning time management, and becoming more disciplined are all benefits dancers say they’ve received from the Project Dance festival. 

This demonstrates that Project Dance is much more than a dance performance, though the two months of work behind-the-scenes culminates with a creative performance featuring many styles of dance. 

This event is held May 22 and 23 at Paul VI High School.

In this integrative dance festival, professional choreographers, teachers, young dancers and local musicians collaborate to create two evenings of entertainment and self-expression.

This year’s 150 participants come from local middle schools and high schools. Courtney Daniels, theatre and dance director at Paul VI High School; Paul VI dance team coach; and director, Next Stage Dance and Drama Academy, developed the program in 2003 as a platform to raise awareness about the benefits of dance and arts education in school curriculum.

"Through research for my master’s degree in School Psychology plus many years of  teaching, I found that students involved in arts education had higher self-esteem, academic success, and were less likely to participate in risky behaviors,” said Daniels. “When I first came to Paul VI, I was very pleased to find that the entire school community supported performing arts education. That has continued over the years. It makes such a difference in the lives of these students.”

An additional purpose of Project Dance is to raise funds for scholarship awards to high school seniors pursuing dance or musical theatre degrees. The awards are presented on the final night of Project Dance. 

A few Project Dance scholarship recipients recently spoke about the program and the impact it had on their lives.

Sarah Garvey, 2005 Project Dance Scholarship recipient originally from Hammonton, participated in the very first project dance.

“When the program started it was small, just 30 dancers total and probably about 60 people in the audience," Garvey said. "It brings tears to my eyes to see how it has grown. I went back last year with other alumni and it was just so exciting to see the auditorium packed with audience members. It was so special to share in the 10th anniversary with my friends from Project Dance. We were like a family and still keep in touch.”

After graduating from high school, Garvey earned a degree in Dance at Montclair State University. She currently works for Disney in Florida as a global cast member performing in shows and parades at the different Orlando parks.

“Project Dance was an incredible learning process. It was very beneficial to learn to adjust to the styles of different choreographers and to get used to learning choreography quickly.  That’s how it works here at Disney. We learn something new and next thing you know, we’re out there performing it,” she said. “I remember when I was applying to universities for dance and some people would say that I should try something more practical. Courtney Daniels was very encouraging and said that if this is your dream, why wouldn’t you do it?”

Garvey got so much out of the program that she encouraged Julie Cullen, a talented younger dancer who attended her dance studio, to participate in Project Dance.

Julie continued with the program through 2010, when she was awarded the scholarship.

“I grew up in Hammonton and attended high school and a dance studio there as well.  Project Dance enabled me to meet and work with dancers and choreographers from all over the area. It was such a welcoming place where I grew long-lasting friendships,” said Cullen, now a senior majoring in Dance at Montclair State University. “Working with different choreographers was beneficial because I had been at my studio for so long, the teachers were more like friends, it was a great experience to learn to adapt to others and develop a professional relationship with them.  Also, the long rehearsals taught me time management. And, choreographing a piece to qualify for the scholarship opened my eyes as to how to treat peers as dancers.  All of this really prepared me for my college experience.”

Cullen is currently auditioning for a job after graduation. She hopes to work in a concert environment and is open to other opportunities such as work on a cruise ship.

Another Project Dance scholarship recipient focused on a career in dance is last year’s award winner, Mikaela Fenton of Winslow. Fenton is finishing up her freshman year majoring in Dance at University of the Arts.

“More than I expected, Project Dance prepared me for auditions after high school. The audition process was very similar. Also, it was an awesome experience working with choreographers who were not only diverse in artistry, but as people, too. The connections I made with them and other dancers were just incredible,” said Fenton. “Participating in the Project Dance scholarship process helped me evolve as a person. It was an amazing opportunity to create and choreograph my own piece. Then, receiving the scholarship helped me pursue my future goals by attending my university.”

Felton looks forward to returning to watch Project Dance this year for the first time as an alumna.

Project Dance performances take place May 22 and 23, 7 p.m., Paul VI High School, 901 Hopkins Rd, Haddonfield, NJ, 08033. Tickets are $12 and available at the door, cash only. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to support arts education and enjoy a passionate, creative performance.

--Press release from Next Stage


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