Grant Spotlight – Dance

New Trier Dance Showcases Original Student Work, Fosters Community

“Dance education brings classroom discussion to a higher level. We reap the benefits of these kids learning about this art form and articulating what they see and understand, even if a student won’t pursue dance as a profession.”
– Christopher Rutt, Dance Division Coordinator

Teachers from the New Trier Dance Division light up when asked about how deeply the students and their families get involved in the performances. Dance Division Coordinator Christopher Rutt is a constant witness to the power of the arts to keep kids in school. “Parents have come up to me at a concert and said that what drew their student to this school was Menz Dance,” recalls Rutt. “They found a deep connection to school through dance and it’s what got them to graduate.”

“Passion for the art is evident in these kids,” adds Dance Faculty Johannah Wininsky. “Our advanced students in Dance Lab 2 come back to the studio and work hard at rehearsals even after graduation, not for a grade, but for the love of the art form. The experience makes them feel connected to each other and to the community, and that connection is evident in their performance.”

In Dance Lab 2, the capstone class, advanced dance students have the opportunity to perform their original choreographed works in an iconic Chicago theater. They learn how to produce a professional dance concert by going through the process of renting professional performance space, reviewing and filling out professional rental contracts, creating posters and flyers to publicize their concert, working with a professional lighting designer and collaborating with their peers. For the 2018 concert, the Foundation provided $3,200 funding support to rent the Vittum Theater in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood, hire a professional lighting designer, buy costumes and create publicity materials.

“Because this is their original work, they have a visceral connection to the work. They feel it in their bones,” points out Wininsky. “They’re the choreographers and the performers. It’s their vision and there’s nothing else like it in the world.”

The Dance Studio Theater is used for both dance classes and smaller concert dance performances. In 2011, the school funded the initial equipment and materials needed to transform the studio. Side lighting, cyclorama, and a light board enabled Dance Division to provide students with an experience like that of intimate professional venues in the city. Many of our other dance and performing arts classes take advantage of the staging to provide a theatrical experience for in‐class studies, rehearsals and performative assessments. The opportunity came up recently to improve this experience for students. In response, the Foundation provided $5,561 funding support for much needed front lighting that utilizes the existing electric boxes and incorporates a simple truss framework that can be set up and taken down with relative ease.

L to R: Christopher Rutt and Brent Roman,
Dance Division Accompanist

“I feel that the new lighting effectively frames the space in a way that helps the dance students experience it as a more professional and performative space,” says Rutt. “Creating a visual separation between audience and performer enhances the curriculum by taking away the classroom feel.”

According to Wininsky, improving the quality of the lighting also creates a better viewing experience and presents the opportunity for bringing in new audiences. “I feel that many people don’t know about the magic that happens in our dance studio that’s tucked away inside the lower level of our building,” says Wininsky. “We need to bring it out more and make it visible to the community. Having a larger audience certainly helps our advanced dance students better prepare for their capstone concert. More importantly, it brings more New Trier families together as a stronger arts community.”

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Chicago Venue Game Changer for New Trier Dancers

“Support from the Foundation made it possible for our dance students to raise the bar for their own educational experience in a new professional environment.”
– Johannah Wininsky, Dance Faculty


Sixteen New Trier senior advanced dancers had the unique experience this past June to perform in the Dance Lab 2 Showcase at the iconic Ruth Page Center for the Arts, an urban dance space in Chicago. Performing in this professional space afforded these students an opportunity to deepen their understanding of dance as an art form, explore their ideas more fully, as well as expose their more sophisticated dance works to a larger audience. In total, including community members, there were 130 in attendance.

During three months of rehearsal, Dance Lab 2 students created and developed original duets and trios presented in the Dance Divisions’ Studio Theater. While this quaint space is special and cherished by the students, it offers minimal lighting and limited audience space. The Educational Foundation provided $2,275 funding support to pay for the rental of the larger theater, a professional lighting designer, costumes, photography and poster design.

“Due in part to the success of this project, my Dance Lab class has doubled in size this year,” says Dance Faculty Johannah Wininsky. “I have been teaching Dance Lab 2 for nine years and my current class of 28 students is the largest to date.”

When proposing this project to her students at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, Wininsky was concerned that they would be hesitant to commit themselves due to the fact that the performance was scheduled a week after graduation. She required them to attend weekly rehearsals at New Trier after their last day of high school as well as attend the first technical rehearsal at Ruth Page the day after their graduation. They needed to discuss the requirements with their parents and, in some cases, alter their work schedules to meet these requirements before signing a contractual agreement. “Their responses were extremely positive and all 16 students met and exceeded my expectations,” according to Wininsky. Parents were very supportive of this project. Some even changed vacation plans so their daughters could participate in this performing experience.

“The feedback I received from students, parents, and colleagues after the performance was overwhelmingly positive and encouraging,” says Wininsky. “This proved that the initial need I saw for this performance was respected, supported, and important to the growth of my students as young artists and creative thinkers.” It also acted as a wonderful farewell event, sending the students on their way with a feeling of accomplishment and pride as well as a strong sense of community.

Recently, Wininsky applied for a second grant from the Foundation in December for a like opportunity in spring 2018. She was awarded the grant to showcase Dance Lab 2 students in another unique performance space at the Vittum Theatre, 1012 N. Noble St., Chicago. Watch for an email from the Foundation for ticket information to this upcoming performance on June 8, 2018, 7:30 p.m.

Postcard design by Evan Ricaurte ’15. Photography by Emily Jung ’17.




Read more impact stories:

Grants Spotlight 2018-2019

Grants Spotlight 2017-2018

Grants Spotlight 2016-2017

Grants Spotlight 2015-2016