When Jennifer Owens and Julie Jarnot opened Artistic Fusion Dance Academy in Westminster, Colorado, 10 years ago, they did it on a wing and a prayer. “We had high expectations and a credit card with a $10,000 limit,” Owens says. But by recruiting top-notch instructors and jumping right into the competition and convention circuit, their five-person roster quickly began to grow. Now Artistic Fusion’s enrollment is roughly 325 students, including a 92-member competition team. This summer, the academy’s senior dancers won the coveted Critic’s Choice Award at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals.
What was most important to you when you first opened Artistic Fusion?
Jennifer Owens: When we started out, we mostly attended conventions. We wanted the kids and their parents to see the value in education and learning from different teachers.
Julie Jarnot: Attending competitions and conventions is a great way for us and the dancers to network and meet new teachers. We share stories and ideas with each other, and the students get to meet people in the industry who can help get them started if they choose to pursue professional dance careers.
How do you come up with your fresh, creative concepts for routines?
JJ: The ideas come to me in random places: driving, watching a movie, in the middle of the night, at an art museum, while reading a fashion magazine. I find that fashion and dance kind of go hand in hand. Last year, I went into Bebe and saw a poster that was very 1940s-pin-up-girl. It inspired me to create the Ice Cream routine we brought to NYCDA Nationals.
JO: Also, we steer away from what other people are doing at competition. We try to find things nobody else is doing.
What if the dancers don’t like their routine? Does that matter?
JJ: We do our best to expose the dancers to as many styles as possible so they have open minds, but sometimes they’re just not feeling it. We have definitely had pieces we performed once and then never did again. We want them to like what they’re doing. If they’re not into it, that’s fine, as long as they’re respectful.
How do you avoid drama when you’re putting together formations in group routines?
JO: We have always been very sensitive that the dancers move around and everyone has a chance to be up front—no one is a backup dancer.
JJ: Sometimes I’ll make a new formation randomly. I’ll tell the dancers to stay on the floor if their birthday is in January; everyone else goes offstage. We make sure everyone knows they are important and that where they are standing in the piece matters. If a certain part of the dance needs something in particular, you use whoever is best at that.
What are the biggest challenges when entering a new competition season?
JO: It’s tough building a new team. When your seniors graduate, you get a group of new kids. At the beginning of the year, we focus on making sure everyone on the team is comfortable. We establish our focus for the year and talk about what we want to improve upon from the previous year. We make sure everyone is on board and go from there.
JJ: We tend to redefine ourselves each year. At the beginning, we sit back a little bit and let the kids settle in and create their team. There’s always somebody who’s a team leader, motivator and peacemaker. We wait to see who’s going to take on that role, because they will help define the company and the season.
Having a hard time finding original music? Julie Jarnot recommends using the iTunes Genius feature. Simply enter the name of a song or artist that you like, and the Genius will recommend similar tunes.
Photo by Propix, courtesy of NYCDA