FW Collective Spreads the Joy of Dance

If you aspire to be a professional dancer or just love to dance and move about – or maybe you prefer to watch dance performances – Fort Wayne Dance Collective (FWDC) has something for you.

The Collective is the result of five women who met 43 years ago at a local modern dance workshop and were inspired to bring the enjoyment of dance to more people in their community.

“Dance is important because it benefits people in every way, including reducing stress, helping with coordination and social skills, and team building,” says FWDC Artistic Manager Ashley Benninghoff. “It gives everyone an outlet for self-expression, which can improve physical, mental and emotional health.”

Newly appointed FWDC Executive Director Lee Rainboth most recently managed an arts center in Haiti. He applied for this position because he identified with the organization’s interest in making dance available to everyone.

“Although this is a difficult time to come on board because of the pandemic, it’s also a good time to get to know the organization, understand its identity and work toward my goal of helping the community understand what we do,” says Rainboth. “We want people to know there’s a place for everyone with us.”

The dance collective is a non-profit arts organization and has grown to include dance classes, professional performances, touring groups and an outreach initiative that brings lessons and performances to schools, hospitals, nursing homes, business meetings, clubs and other organizations.

The FWDC Community Outreach Initiative was launched in 2016 to serve those with the greatest need and the least access in Northeast Indiana. For more than 20 years, the Collective has also provided quality movement programs for people with a range of cognitive and physical disabilities, empowering them to explore movement and music in ways that are stimulating and creative. The students range in age from preschool to seniors.

In-school and after-school programs give students an introduction to dance. “We strongly believe in the concept of helping others to achieve health and wellness through movement and rhythm and alternative approaches to taking care of oneself,” says Benninghoff. “We empower people and educate them about the body’s ability to be self-aware, self-maintaining, self-healing and self-improving.”

The Collective’s touring groups are made up of professional and non-professional artists and include Taiko, which is a Japanese musical tradition that means “big drum.” Established in 1997, Fort Wayne Taiko was the first group of its kind in Indiana and is the only group like it in Northeast Indiana.

The Pineapple Dance Project is a youth company that performs for fundraisers, art openings and festivals. The pre-professional dancers offer unique and inspiring dance arrangements to their audiences.

FWDC Touring Company is made up of professional dancers and choreographers who perform locally and around the Midwest, while the Guest Artist Residency brings unique performers from around the world to Fort Wayne to expose the local community to new styles and perspectives in dance.

Although most lessons and performances went virtual during the pandemic, plans are underway to have live events including a Choreographer’s Lab in May, a family concert in June, and an all-original program by the Touring Company in August, even if a virtual option remains necessary for those who can’t attend in person.

Benninghoff says going virtual because of the pandemic has actually helped the organization to grow its audience.

“I’ve heard from people who took classes with us 20 years ago and moved away but have stayed connected with us through social media,” says Rainboth. “They’ve written to us saying they appreciate the greater access of lessons and performances online. They remember being a part of the Collective years ago and now can participate wherever they are.”

To register for classes or book any of the touring groups, visit fwdc.org or send an email to [email protected] or call (260) 424-6574. ❚