The Perry-Mansfield experience; a passion for dance rekindled
Steamboat Springs — When dancer Karina Cardella stepped off the Alpine Taxi onto the campus of Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp, she was struck by the breathtaking beauty of the mountains surrounding her.
She had escaped the heat of Arizona and arrived in Strawberry Park with a suitcase full of everything she would need for the week, along with a couple of clear goals she hoped to accomplish during the camp for college-aged pre-professionals.
The 19-year-old wanted to improve her skills as a dancer, gain experience as a choreographer and meet some of the biggest names in dance while she was in Steamboat Springs. Perry-Mansfield’s reputation is what drew her to Colorado, and a few scholarships and a fundraising effort that included building her own Go Fund Me campaign got her here.
“I don’t really know what to expect,” Cardella said a few minutes after stepping off the bus on her first day. “I’ve seen pictures, but now that I’m here, I can see that those photographs really didn’t do it justice — it’s far more beautiful.”
Cardella’s journey to Perry-Mansfield represented her first intensive dance camp experience, and though she was used to dancing between four and six hours per day at the University of Arizona, the schedule at Perry-Mansfield can challenge even the most experienced of dancers.
It is not unusual for dancers to spend more than 10 hours working with choreographers in the Pavilion and Louis Horst Dance Studio. Cardella got a taste of what world class choreographers such as Stacey Tookey and Dante Pujeio want to see from performers, and she learned what that level of performance demands in terms of dedication and devotion.
She also got to see how they create and help mold new works as part of the camp. It was different from what she normally experiences as a student at the University of Arizona where she is a junior.
“At school, we have all this stuff going on — rehearsals, classes and academics,” Cardella said. “It’s easy to forget that I love dance this much … I get lost in all the stress of school.”
But it only took a few days for the young dancer to discover why top-level dancers and actors have been coming to Perry-Mansfield for more than 100 years.
“Coming here and getting to focus on dance and nothing else gave me some inspiration to find my passion again,” Cardella said. “Sometimes, you lose sight of that at school. I think it inspired me and motivated me for next year.”
Cardella’s response to her time at Perry-Mansfield has been the norm since Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield first opened the drama and dance camp in 1913 at Lake Eldora in the mountains along the Eastern Slope. A year later, the women moved the camp to Strawberry Park, and ever since, aspiring dancers and actors have been finding inspiration in the mountains of the Yampa Valley.
But the moments Cardella will long remember didn’t come on the dance floor, or even beneath the lights of the group’s last performance during the final Sunday of camp. She said performing on the campus was special, but she was quick to point out that the things she will remember most fell between the rehearsals and the performances.
“It was insane,” Cardella said of the schedule at Perry-Mansfield. “I will never forget working with Stacy and Dante, and I will never forget the friendships I’ve made here. I feel like I’ve gotten closer to the people at my school (who also came to the camp), and the other dancers I hung out with. We all went to the (Strawberry Park) Hot Springs, and I’ve never really gone to a place like that before. The sunset was amazing, and seeing all the stars was unforgettable.”
Cardella said there were also plenty of challenges to conquer. Physically, she said she felt good the first few days, but then, the demanding schedule and altitude started to take their toll on her.
“I dance a lot at school, but I also have time to work out,” Cardella said. “I couldn’t do that here, so that was hard. I spent a lot of time dancing, so I feel like my fitness level is higher now, but it took some getting use to.”
Cardella said she found her stride in the middle of the 11-day camp, and she was inspired by the chance to perform at the end.
“At first, I was tired by lunch time,” she said. “But, thankfully, that only lasted a couple of days.”
Cardella also was fueled by the chance to perform the works that Tookey and Pujeio created for her group. Cardella said she loves to dance, but her true passion lies in dancing on stage — especially the chance to perform new works.
“Performing is probably my favorite part of dancing,” she said. “I worked so hard in rehearsals all week, so, to get paid off on stage at the end of the week made it all worth it.”
As the young dancer stepped into a taxi at the end of camp, she was returning home with a gift she never imagined she’d find when the week began. Just as the generations of dancers before her, Cardella had rediscovered her passion for dance in the mountains of Northwest Colorado, and she was taking that experience back with her to Arizona.
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Witches and goblins and ghosts, oh my!