On a clear Saturday afternoon, during Lewis County’s annual ArTrails studio tour, Bethel Church in downtown Centralia was overflowing with activity. Recorded music emanating from a hidden back room punctuated by the pattern of synchronized feet. Curious onlookers marveling at the vintage architecture of the building, with art and dance instructors acting as tour guides. The clatter of power tools booming from the upper levels of the auditorium, where volunteers help renovate the seats. Just another productive day at Bethel School of the Arts and Centralia Ballet Academy.
It’s only natural that Bethel Church decided to launch a performing arts school; their space is in the former Liberty Theater building, a movie house from the ‘20s that still has parts of the original decor intact. With its historical facade, spacious auditorium, and multiple floors and practice rooms that are perfect for rehearsing a soliloquy or concerto in private, the space is a perfect hub for creativity.
Now in their second year of existence, Bethel School of the Arts’ Fall 2016 session started in mid-September, with several classes available to children and adults. Centralia Ballet Academy’s fall classes are underway as well, and in addition to various levels of ballet, other forms of dance such as jazz and tap are offered to all age groups.
“It’s been a Bethel building for the last four years”, says Erica Dyeson, director of Bethel School of the Arts. “Sunday morning we have services, Monday night there’s prayer, but during the week we have dance, acting, music, and art classes. Everyone is welcome.” Among the many classes offered this fall are Drama for Teens, Introduction to Fiddle, Pencil & Acrylic Art, and Sewing.
The instructors and students from School of the Arts and Centralia Ballet Academy understand the importance of community, and jump at any chance to be involved in events in Lewis County. “During the Hub City Car Show, we had some of our instructors playing music outside. Last spring, we had local middle and high school students from area schools, as well as a few adults come together to put on a dinner theater production of ‘Uncle Phil’s Diner.’”
On October 1, students from Centralia Ballet Academy performed routines from their upcoming Halloween-themed “Spooktacular” show before the Historic Fox Centralia Theater’s screening of Ghostbusters. It was a throwback to the early days of entertainment, where the locals would head to their neighborhood venue (like the Fox or Liberty Theater) to catch dancing, singing, and a film on the same bill.
Opportunities to bring arts and entertainment to the community isn’t just limited to Centralia—this December, Centralia Ballet Academy will be partnering with Pe Ell school students for a production of The Nutcracker. “We don’t just want to be our own thing, we want to be part of the community, either bringing people here or going to where they are,” says Dyeson. Centralia residents will also be able to see The Nutcracker during the holiday season, with tea and sweets served to the audience during key scenes.
Mick and Nancy Gunter have been running Centralia Ballet Academy for roughly seven years. In need of a new space, they came into contact with Erica and Bethel Church, where the spacious rooms were a perfect match for the ambitious owners and their eager young ballet students.
“For me, it was just something I wanted to do when I was a kid”, says Mick. “I never had the chance to do it. I got the chance to take some classes and be in some performances in Olympia. After that, I met my wife, who was a teacher, and she wanted to have her own place. We thought Centralia would be an opportune place to start a school. We’ve been very lucky, and have grown consistently since opening. This month was the beginning of our class schedule, and we’ve already had two classes fill up.”
The enthusiasm of the dancers is apparent, as is the camaraderie in the classrooms. “We have really great kids and really great families. It’s not a ‘Dance Moms’ situation. The kids look after each other. Any instances of drama or other issues are taken care of quickly, and the kids learn from it, and have grown stronger because of it.”
Melinda Brein is Bethel School of the Arts’ Renaissance woman, and has been with the school since day one. In addition to teaching sewing and mixed media art, she creates the costumes for Centralia Ballet Academy’s productions. She seconds Mick’s statement regarding the performing arts schools’ methods of teaching and learning. “The school is accessible to everyone. Kids want to learn competence and gain strength. They cover everybody.”
Asked if Bethel School of the Arts and Centralia Ballet Academy would ever collaborate on a multi-tiered musical or variety show where all the students can showcase their talents, Erica and Mick respond with optimism. “Getting to that is a bit of a challenge, but (a collaborative performance), that is the desire”, says Erica.
“It would be really great if down the road we could have a huge community musical or production”, says Mick. “We have the stage space, we have the theater space, we have the talent.”