It took a few years to get a "yes" after Kyle Preiser first approached Judy Rice with a proposal to start a dance convention. Rice, associate professor of dance at the University of Michigan, had for 20 years traveled most weekends (with Co. Dance, Artists Simply Human and other conventions) to teach ballet to competition-studio dancers. She was taking a break, she told him.
The two had first met at the Artists Simply Human Nationals, where Preiser and his wife and business partner, Amanda, brought a group to perform from Fusion Dance Force, their studio with two locations on Long Island, New York. Rice was impressed. "Their choreography was through-the-roof amazing," she says. "Richly layered, smart, well coached—and age-appropriate." She began to work with the Fusion Dance Force students and teach ballet at their summer intensive.
But after a three-year absence from the convention scene, Rice realized how much she missed it, and she longed for the professional stimulation she had enjoyed with her faculty colleagues. So in 2019, she and Preiser decided to launch Alpha Dance Convention.
Courtesy Alpha Dance Convention
Education First<p>The Alpha faculty roster may not include household dance names. But that's because their priority is hiring faculty members who align with Alpha's teaching philosophy, rather than filling their roster with big names. Faculty members include Dee Tomasetta, who has worked with Mia Michaels as a performer and associate choreographer and dance captain on <em>Finding Neverland</em>'s<em> </em>first national tour; Hallie Toland, who was swing for <em>Charlie and the Chocolate Factory </em>on Broadway; and Ryan Vettel, who Rice knew as a tap dancer and teaching assistant for Co. Dance. "I've watched him working with kids," she says. "With these three, it's their hearts. Even though they're young, they're true educators." The current faculty roster includes eight instructors plus Rice and the Preisers.</p><p>Instead of driving enrollment through big names, as many other popular conventions do, Alpha seeks to leverage the relationships Rice has built with studio owners over her many years of teaching. Those personal connections, Rice hopes, will result in loyal clientele who return year after year.</p>
Ryan Vettel. Courtesy Alpha Dance Convention
How It's Going So Far<p>As we know only too well, the pandemic was spiking in October and Alpha had to cancel its long-anticipated first event. Toronto was also called off when the Canadian border closed. Not to be defeated, Alpha pivoted to in-studio events, where small faculty groups replicate a modified convention schedule privately. Three studios signed up to bring Alpha faculty to their locations in Wisconsin, Illinois and Kentucky. "These are people I've known for a really long time," says Rice. "Kids know the protocol and where to space themselves. It makes me feel comfortable. It's a way to connect with our community."</p><p>When we spoke in November, Alpha was set to have its first in-person public event the weekend before Thanksgiving, in Orlando. Registrations were at 60 participants, somewhat less than the projected break-even number of 100 and far short of the conservative target of 200. Yet in Preiser's thinking, there remained good reason to hold the event even at this lower enrollment. He worked with the hotel and vendors to modify the budget and was now looking at Orlando as a trial run for a much larger event, planned for January in New Jersey, that has already exceeded registration expectations. The New Jersey event is big enough to bring Alpha back to break-even for the year, he says.</p>
Courtesy Alpha Dance Convention