Growing by Leaps

Children’s Dance Foundation embraces a new artistic director and a new direction.

by Phillip Ratliff


Just west of Homewood’s charming main drag lies a right-and-tumble land that time began remembering only a few years ago. It is here, along Central Avenue, that one now finds such eateries as Little Donkey, Octane, and Steel City Pops, located in a refurbished wing of an old A & P grocery store and adjacent a shoe repair shop. From there stretches out a nexus of high functioning miscellany: a furniture warehouse, oil change bays, a cosmetology school, the remains of a printing company, a Montessori school, apartment buildings, duplexes, and single family homes.

Tucked within, but assertively holding its own, is the long corrugated metal building that is Children’s Dance Foundation. A few years ago, CDF’s simple, industrial-strength digs got a swirly makeover, with the installation of an exterior wall mounted metal sculpture. That redo—in essence, a series of primary colored swoops—envelopes the building in CDF’s positive, childlike energy, as I read it. It is emblematic of what goes on inside.

This year, the Homewood dance institution is getting another makeover with the addition of its first ever CDF artistic director, Heidi Nicole Stoeckley. In that new role, Stoeckley is charting an ambitious plan to increase enrollment and advance the CDF mission.

Specifically, Stoeckley hopes to expand CDF’s upper division program to match its wildly popular lower division. Her work, she admits, is cut out for her. There are approximately 700 students currently studying in CDF’s lower school, serving ages 12 months through second grade, she says. Upper division enrollment drops precipitously, numbering about 60.

STAGED-CDF-TAPBut Stoeckley is taking an aggressive approach, and she believes she and upper school artistic director Shellie Chambers have a viable plan. To CDF’s current upper school course of study, the company will add an auditioned program for students taking classes four or more days a week. The auditioned program will consist of workshops and performances with local professional dance troupes, visiting artist residencies, and a touring ensemble. “This is a projection, a goal. We have a vision that is still in a seed-like form,” Stoeckley says.

Currently, CDF focuses not just on the ability to execute the mechanics of dance, but also on the dance student’s developmental skills. CDF students learn to share, listen, and respond—skills that extend beyond the study of dance toward the building of well-rounded, creative individuals. “CDF teaches classical ballet technique, but we are process-oriented,” Stoeckley says, infusing that study with an appreciation for music, imagery, singing, and rhythm.

Against this backdrop, it will be interesting to see how CDF’s new intensive program plays out. In CDF’s favor is a history of embracing innovation through partnerships. It’s in their DNA. Collaboration is integral to CDF, not just as a value that the company imparts to students, but one that the company lives out in day-to-day operations. At CDF, you will find drum circle master John Scalici pounding out primal beats for students and dance troupes Sanspointe and AROVA performing alongside CDF’s own professional company in the building’s black box theater.

CDF Executive Director Diane Litsey believes that under Stoeckley’s leadership, her organization is poised to offer success in its new efforts. Litsey credits Stoeckley’s enthusiasm and background, which includes study at Julliard and Columbia and a stint dancing with Martha Graham, as pluses in their upcoming launch.

“CDF has a rich history of keeping our mission in motion. I meet people almost every day who share their very personal and powerful CDF stories, which I find so inspiring. With Heidi here, I am further inspired by her inquisitive nature and her ideas on how CDF can change students’ lives,” Litsey says.

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