Stephanie Harper's favorite word seems to be "collaboration."
The 22-year-old Western Washington University senior plans a career as a dance instructor and recently founded a Bellingham studio she calls Harper&I.
Now she's preparing for her dance company's coming out party, so to speak -- three December performances of the holiday ballet "La Boutique Fantasque" in a collaboration with Bellingham's Northwest Ballet Academy.
"I'm absolutely thrilled that the December 21 and 22 performances (at Fairhaven's Performing Arts Center) are almost sold out, so we'll also hold a performance on Sunday, December 16 (11 a.m., Northwest Ballet Academy, 1417 Cornwall Ave.), with admission by donation," she said.
Question: Stephanie, how did you come up with that unusual studio name?
Answer: The "I" refers to each student I teach in a collaborative, caring, positive way.
Q: How many students do you have?
A: We opened in July at the Bell Tower Studios, 1430 N. Garden St. We have about 30 students now. They range from 3 years old to adult.
Q: Why is the word "collaboration" so important to you?
A: I feel strongly that the fine arts should be collaborative. Since coming to Western in fall 2008, I noticed there didn't seem much of that in Bellingham, so collaboration has become my focus. I want to collaborate with many different people in the fine arts. I feel there's a need in Bellingham for collaboration between artists. There's so much potential to grow and learn from one another.
Q: Have you worked your way through Western?
A: Yes. I've been teaching dance and worked in our community (and other communities) in a variety of jobs throughout my college years. I'm very independent, and I've supported myself. I started teaching dance when I was 16 (at Central Kitsap High School in Silverdale). Dance is what inspires me and pushes me to grow and develop as a person.
Q: What's your major at Western?
A: I'm studying dance and psychology. I'm planning to graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance. I've been inspired at Western by Pam Kuntz, who is a wonderful mentor. I also owe a lot to Lorrie Wilson, an instructor in Eastern Washington who I met at a dance convention in Seattle. It was support from Pam and Lorrie that led me to open the studio.
Q: How long have you been dancing?
A: I was born in Moscow, Russia, and came to America when I was 3. I started dancing at 6 - in my heart I was always a ballerina. I've also developed a love for modern dance and some hip-hop. I grew up in a very European lifestyle and I've already been back to Europe four or five times for dance and travel. I love to travel and meet people.
Q: How did you become a collaborator with Northwest Ballet?
A: I had never met the owner John Bishop and his daughters Miye and Mija. I decided to introduce myself. John wound up giving me a job! I'm still working there and at other places. I don't want to be just an independent studio. We've had eight guest instructors so far. Right now, I'm doing choreography for the (long established) Neighborhood Playhouse in Bellingham.
Q: What else do you have lined up?
A: We'll have several collaborative performances next year, beginning with "For You," a dance performance with singers and musicians for Valentine's Day at Fairhaven's Firehouse Performing Arts Center.
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.
ON THE WEB
For more information on "Harper&I," go to harperandi.com.