Bonnie Boiter-Jolley and Claire Richards Rapp practice for this week’s Columbia Summer Rep Dance Company performance.

From October to March, Columbia enjoys a thriving dance scene, led most prominently by two professional ballet companies. 

But what happens in the offseason, from April to September, when the curtain goes down on the regular season?

Most working professionals can’t imagine their job taking a seven-month break. But this is the reality that professional dancers in Columbia face.

For those that love the arts, dance in particular, the hiatus begs a lot of questions. What do professional dancers do for work during the offseason? How do high-level performance artists, who are also athletes, stay in top physical form if they aren’t performing for seven months out of the year? How are they putting food on the table and paying bills? What about the lost opportunities for audience members to enjoy professional dance performances?

Cindi Boiter, executive director of Jasper Project, and dancer and choreographer Stephanie Wilkins hope to alleviate hese issues with their new effort, the Columbia Summer Rep Dance Company.

“Well, Cindi and I were sort of on the same wavelength and didn’t even know it,” Wilkins enthuses of how the new project began. “This past February, I had just finished choreographing for the Columbia City Ballet’s Beatles show. I was talking to Cindi’s daughter, Bonnie [Boiter-Jolley], who is a principal [dancer] with Columbia City Ballet. We were talking about the lack of performance opportunities for dancers in the summer. It’s just really hard once the regular season ends. I mentioned that I have been thinking about trying to create a summer company. But, I wasn’t sure how I could get the idea off the ground.”

Bonnie suggested she reach out to Cindi. The connection, Wiklins says, was “kismet.”

The Jasper Project is a Columbia nonprofit that looks to facilitate community engagement through arts projects covering — and intermingling — an array of disciplines. The idea of a dance company that brought dancers more opportunity to engage with this town and with their craft, and brought local audiences more opportunity to see them, was a natural fit.

“When I founded Jasper as a 501(c)(3) four years ago, the idea of a summer dance company was always in the works,” Boiter says. “My daughter is a dancer, so I know first hand how stressful the offseason is for our professional dancers.”

The need for additional opportunities during the summer is particularly sharp for dancers, she explains.

“Dancers have to worry about staying in shape, and without regular daily class and rehearsals, it means they have to find and pay for classes to keep in shape,” Boiter offers. “Our community also loses talent when dancers leave for other work opportunities during the summer. Sometimes they don’t come back. Plus there is a noticeable void for our audiences who enjoy going to performances and seeing our talented dancers.

When Stephanie approached me, I knew the time was right to present her idea of a summer repertory company to Jasper’s Board of Directors.”

As a nonprofit facilitator, Jasper can help fundraise and write grant applications, helping efforts such as the Columbia Summer Rep Dance Company find the resources they need to succeed. In that way, the new project is doing for dance what Jasper accomplishes with its 2nd Act Film Festival and its annual Fall Lines literary collection — providing another chance for local artists to pursue their craft without leaving town. 

And true to Jasper’s mission of promoting multidisciplinary art, dance won’t be the only discipline included at Columbia Summer Rep’s debut performance this weekend. Live music interludes will feature jazz musician Mark Rapp and vocalist Ashley Hayes. 

Wilkins, Columbia Summer Rep’s director and lead choreographer, wanted to cast a wide and inclusive net with the company’s debut. Dale Lam (artistic director of Columbia Conservatory of Jazz), Angela M. Gallo (a professor of dance at Coker College and artistic director for Sapphire Moon Dance Company) each created works for the performance.

“The show will feature eight well-known local professional dancers and will be more contemporary in style,” Wilkins elaborates. “I feel like the dancers, who are used to dancing more classical works, like the change of pace and enjoy the opportunity to move and work in different ways. It’s something new and exciting for the audience, too.”

The hope is to use this year’s event as a spark for future growth.

“This year we will have only one performance, but the evening will be a great way to celebrate the inaugural summer dance season in Columbia,” Wilkins says. “In the future, I hope to work with Jasper so that we can fill the seven-month void and grow the spring/summer dance season in Columbia. Maybe eventually we will be able to tour the state and even beyond.”   

What: Columbia Summer Rep Dance Company

Where: CMFA ArtSpace, 914 Pulaski St.

When: Saturday, Aug. 17, 7:30 p.m.

Price: $30 ($25 advance)


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