Celebrating more than four decades of dance and community– Bainbridge Dance Center’s 42nd Annual Student Performance, June 23rd – 25th

BDC logoIt was 1981, Bainbridge Island sported a population of just over 12,000* residents, and with the exception of the “city of Winslow”, the island was mostly unincorporated land. It was then that Elizabeth Olsen opened her dance studio, Bainbridge Dance Center (BDC). The center was located on the ground floor of an old house on Ferncliff Avenue, surrounded by a grove of giant horse chestnut trees and mostly open land. A few years later, three-year-old Christiana Axelsen would take her first dance class, igniting a spark that would become her passion and life’s work.

In 1986, professional dancer and former Southwest Ballet manager, Susan Thompson moved to the island and began teaching at BDC. It was there that she met young Christiana, and became her teacher and mentor for the next decade and a half.

Fast forward to 1990, Elizabeth was ready to retire and offered to sell the center to Susan, who jumped at the opportunity. By 1992, Winslow had annexed the entirety of the island the year before and it became known as the City of Bainbridge Island, the population was growing and so was BDC, it was time to move. Susan and her husband, Hoyt Corbett purchased land on Madison Avenue and built the new studio, with classes opening that same year at the new location. Susan continued to recruit exceptional instructors and faculty, and deepen its roots in the community and to be a locus for inspiration, creativity and quality training.”

All the while, Christiana continued to hone her talents as a dancer through Susan’s instruction, dancing in the center’s annual performances at Bainbridge Performing Arts, and later (when BPA began renovations) at Bainbridge High School, as well as the Madison Avenue studio, where Susan choreographed her iconic work “Flight.” Christiana went on to attend Mount Holyoke College, graduating summa cum laude with dual degrees in Dance and Geology. She returned to Bainbridge and joined the faculty at BDC from 2003 to 2008, then moved to New York to continue her professional dance career.

BDC BuildingIn 2012, Susan sadly passed away after a battle with cancer, her son’s Quinlan (who Christiana is now married too) and Wesley took the dance center over as co-owners. BryAnn Bingham, who began working at the center in 1996 and became the Associate Director a year later, took over as Director. In 2017, Christiana was offered the opportunity to take over as Director and returned to Bainbridge to live full time.

“I had been dancing professionally for fifteen years and living in NYC for about eight years when the opportunity came up to move back to Bainbridge and direct BDC. It felt like a perfect moment to step away from the hustle of living in NYC into a more calm lifestyle closer to family and nature,” Christiana explained. “But it was important to me to craft a life here that allows me to continue with projects in NYC and to keep performing and touring. So, I am lucky to find I have the best of both worlds. I live in a gorgeous place, I love teaching and being a part of the community at BDC, and I still get to work with some of the most talented artists in my field.”

Wanting to take the center to the next level, Christiana has drawn upon a talented pool of artists here on Bainbridge and from afar, curating an amazing staff of instructors from around the country and world. She also wanted to make sure BDC adequately compensated their working artists so they could afford to travel from Seattle and beyond to teach. “It helps that our students are (also) delightful. I acknowledge my bias on this, but teachers consistently tell me BDC is one of their favorite places to teach because the students are curious and open-minded,” she said. “We have some fantastic teachers coming to Bainbridge for our summer programs partly because they love our students, partly because they are good friends, but also partly because spending a couple weeks on Bainbridge in July sounds so much better than sweating it out in NYC or LA.”

BDC PosterAlthough the instructors are exceptional, it’s the students that make the magic happen. The Bainbridge Dance Center’s 42nd Annual Student Performance will feature an array of talented dance students, ages four to adult in ballet, contemporary, creative movement, hip hop, flamenco, modern, tap and student composition. The Advanced Ballet Repertory students will present Giselle, featuring high school seniors Alex VanNocken-Witmer and Matia Simmons-Reimnitz.

BDC’s 42nd Annual Student Performance will be held at Bainbridge High School Theater.
Performances: June 23rd – 25th / Friday at 6:00 p.m., Saturday & Sunday at 4:00 p.m.

For tickets, visit: www.bainbridgedancecenter.com

BDC offers a fantastic selection of summer dance classes and programs that include classes for ages four and under (accompanied by an adult), youth and teen, and accommodate all levels of skill. To learn more, and register for classes, visit: Summer Classes — Bainbridge Dance Center

“I think what makes our youth program unique is that we are committed to cultivating community. I like to keep students together as a group throughout the years so that they grow together emotionally, socially and technically,” Christiana said. BDC is a home away from home for these students and this year, her students actually asked if she could increase the number of hours they spend at the center. “Yes, teens asked me to schedule dance until 8:30pm on Friday nights. They then come to dance at 9am Saturday mornings and dance into the afternoon.” BDC’s young dancers are definitely dedicated, but as she noted, they enjoy the social aspect and spending time together as well.

BDC has always offered adult classes, however 2022 was the first year the adults were asked to participate in the June performance. “It was fantastic. Everyone in our community saw that dance can be for everyone, regardless of age.” They’re oldest dancer is in her mid-eighties and they have a dad, whose daughter encouraged him to take ballet so he could better understand her experience and passion for dance. Christiana also started adult tap two years ago, which will be included in the June performance this year. To learn more about adult classes, visit: Adult Classes — Bainbridge Dance Center

Alexandra VanNocken-Witmer and Matia Simmons-Reimnitz - photo credit Sarah D. KingIn addition to their existing programs, Christiana is working towards expanding performance and educational opportunities for her students. Last year they performed their first in-person Nutcracker Ballet in December, with a Bainbridge theme. “Instead of types of candy, the dancers were animals of the pacific northwest: orca whales, great blue herons, tree frogs, hummingbirds, deer and the Blackberry Fairy.” She also took her most advanced dancers to the Merge Festival in Federal Way. Instead of a competition, the festival is dedicated to creating connections between area dance schools, and the students collaborated to create choreography and perform together.

“We will have our first ever Summer Dance Intensive Performance this July. The students will spend two weeks studying a variety of dance forms with teachers from all across the US. Classes will include African, ballet, Capoeira, contact improvisation, contemporary, Cunningham (technique), dance history, anatomy and injury prevention, and yoga, with a performance at the end.”

As a successful alumnus of BDC, Christiana has performed nationally and internationally with NYC-based dance artists and her own work has been shown in Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Pittsburgh, Colorado and Istanbul. In addition, she’s taught classes and workshops at New York University, Barnard College, Mount Holyoke College, Velocity Dance Center, Brooklyn Arts Exchange and the Conservatory of Modern Dance at Mimar Sinan University in Istanbul.

Bainbridge Dance CenterHowever, she isn’t alone, BDC has several alumni that have become professional dancers and choreographers. As Christiana told me, “Patrick Kilbane started dancing at BDC and ended up at Ballet BC. Alumna and current faculty member Kim Lusk danced for zoe|juniper and is a celebrated Seattle-based choreographer. Jenna Eady is a choreographer. She had a residency at BASE a couple years ago and made an incredible piece with her father examining aspects of their Palestinian heritage. Rain Ross had a company here in Seattle and is now a professor outside Philadelphia. She used to co-run a dance festival in Lebanon. I just got a note from Jeffrey Shirbroun who is dancing in New York and I know Alec Chupik is dancing in Philadelphia. I am sure there are many more and I would love to hear from them all!”

Rent the center! BDC also offers the space for rental, which includes two beautiful studios with heated, sprung, Marley dance floors; mirrors; stereo systems; HEPA filters; wall-mounted and portable ballet barres; and whiteboards.

Birthday Parties at BDC! They offer dance birthday parties for children of all ages.

  • 30-minute Dance Class in Studio A with a BDC teacher.
  • 1 hour in Studio B to craft, snack, eat cake, & open presents. Tables, chairs & sound system provided.
  • $250 for up to 12 children.
  • Available hours: Sundays 12-6pm

To inquire about studio availability, contact mail@bainbridgedancecenter.com

*Correction: a previous version of this article stated the island population in 1981 as “less than 2,500 residents”.  According to COBI, the population was 12,314 in 1981 (source: 14-Appendix-A—Economic-Profiles (bainbridgewa.gov)

*Photo credits: Sarah D. King and Margaret Millmore

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