By Gerhard Schneibel

When 16-year-old North Springs Charter School of Arts and Sciences junior Joya Johnson spends three weeks in an intensive dance program at the Julliard School in New York this summer, she will benefit from the training and education she has received during her three years of high school.

Joya, who spent six weeks at the Governor’s Honors Program in Valdosta in summer 2007, described the anticipation of her time in New York as a mix of excitement and fear.

However she emphasized North Springs’ dance program – which faculty members liken to the equivalent of a college minor in dance – has readied her to face a diverse and challenging environment.

“It really did teach me to be more accepting to different types of dance,” she said. “It taught me to think outside of the box instead of just strict ballet and jazz.”

Andrea Edmonstone teaches on a full-time basis in the program, which also employs two part-time teachers. The three have backgrounds in professional dance, and between them they teach more than 70 students. Edmonstone spent six years touring the world from Norway to Singapore with the Asheville, N.C.-based “Green Grass Cloggers.”

“When I moved to Atlanta about 8 years ago, I had my sights set on one of the few dance programs in the Metro Atlanta area, which – you know there are only about five or six – and I knew there was a position here and I wanted to be part of a team,” she said. “Here all the visual and performing arts programs have performing and working artists first, and we also teach as well. So, we all had some kind of career in the profession before.”

Edmonstone added the size, intensity and diversity of the program allows for training in traditional dance and exploration into newer forms.

“It’s just kind of a gem to have such a large department, and they meet every day for an hour and a half for four years. So it’s really the equivalent of like a college minor in dance. They get a lot of dance history, they get improvisation, they get choreography skills. They learn to compose their own dances. They do a lot of repertory with us where we set choreography on them and they learn ballet, modern and jazz and African dance and a couple of other sprinklings as well. So it’s a very broad program, and large,” she said.

Seventeen-year-old senior Taylor Paige spent four years in the program and will continue her education at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia in the fall.

“I think I came in [to North Springs dance], really closed-minded to different kinds of dance, things that were unfamiliar to me. But now I can appreciate a lot more. If I would have gone somewhere else it would have been a lot different,” she said. “Some of the dances that we do (with Ms. Edmonstone), they’re really quirky. I’m used to a lot of technical stuff, like turning and leaping, not just the little detailed things. So it’s different and I’m glad I can appreciate everything—the big stuff and the smaller dances. If I didn’t go here I think I would still have that closed-minded attitude, and it wouldn’t be good. So, I think it serves a good purpose. North Springs dance was good.”

Seventeen-year-old senior Daniel Squire spent the past four years dancing alongside Paige. He hopes to stay on at North Springs as an intern in the dance department.

“It has changed my life because I was a non-dancer, and I didn’t start dancing until I came here. And so I’ve made a total 360 and it was just an awe-inspiring moment in life for me,” he said. “It’s so many different things, because you have to interact with people. Being in the dance classes you have to learn to accommodate and know when to be quiet and when to speak up, because there are so many different personalities. It’s just so diverse and you end up becoming a family, so you take a lot away from it because it builds character as a person.

He said he couldn’t imagine his life without dance.

“I try not to think about that. I just think about being in it because dance is so important to me and it would be depressing to not have it. So, I don’t even go down that street,” he added.