By Bridgette Waldau
Photography by Mikaela Queen
What happens when the “lights go out” for a group of young talented artists? In Okeechobee, a mother-daughter team and owners of a dance studio, found a way to make sure that the show would go on.
Located in Okeechobee, Grace Place Dance Studio’s emphasis is placed on providing its students the tools needed to develop proper technique and appreciation of the art of dance, while building self-esteem, confidence and a personal love of dance. Grace Place is owned and operated by Colleen Queen and Abagail Queen.
A resident of Okeechobee since childhood, Colleen left Okeechobee for college but returned and worked as a teacher. Her daughter Abagail, born and raised in Okeechobee, attended college and studied dance. Abagail was blessed with the opportunity to become a member of Studio One, a professional Hip Hop group. She also trained with other professionals and performed at an international level. During her high school years, Abagail had the desire to bring her love of dance to Okeechobee. She wanted to give the kids of her community the opportunity to learn the art of dance without having to leave Okeechobee. From that dream, Grace Place was developed.
Annually, Grace Place celebrates its students’ work by hosting annual recitals. As they were preparing for their third annual recital, Covid-19 created a problem. Grace Place did not let that get in the way, nor let their students down. The “Recital Experience” was born. This experience, titled Soar Beyond, was a virtual recital. Routines, representing each class and competition team, were performed in the studio at Grace Place in front of a very small group of family and friends. All routines were recorded, and the process took about twenty-five hours. The recordings were then edited and composed into a one-and-a-half-hour movie which embodied the accomplishments of the students.
During Florida’s Covid-19, phase 3, Grace Place felt it was safe to host an outdoor watch party. Students and their families were invited to the showing of their third annual recital. At the well-attended event, a 20-foot screen was set up, a concession stand was opened and there was music, dance and celebration. Through this challenging period of time, Grace Place said it would make lemonade out of lemons and Soar Beyond was evidence of turning a negative into a positive. The students’ spirits were lifted as they were recognized and celebrated.
In addition to finding a way to make sure that the annual recital would continue during the period of the Covid shutdown, Grace Place was faced with another disappointment felt by the members of its competition dance team (GPDC). The girls that make up this team audition for their spot, spend extended hours training, make a commitment to participate in regional competitions and also representing Okeechobee at national competitions.
After many hours of conditioning, practice and routine review, taking over the course of several months, GPDC was able to attend its first two competitions. However, due to the unexpected “pause” of life, the girls’ competition season abruptly ended. Grace Place again found a way to lift the spirits of the dancers and also make use of the many costumes that had been purchased. They decided to create a project called “Just Dance.”
Over several weeks, GPDC dancers participated in on-location video and photo shoots. Soloists and groups participated – totaling seven routines. All members were given the opportunity to participate. The photos and videos, along with profiles of each individual, were posted on the Grace Place’s Facebook page. The girls had their time in the “spotlight” where family and friends were able to see the talents of the dancers. During a time that life seemed lonely for many of the dancers, this project filled the hearts of GPDC with joy and provided an opportunity to stay connected.
Colleen and Abagail have an appreciation of the arts and are proud to be citizens of Okeechobee. Knowing that the project “Just Dance” would be shared publicly, they wanted to highlight some of the interesting locations in Okeechobee. Backdrops used for filming the soloist’s dances were the Butterfly Sculpture Garden in Flagler Park, community murals, alongside colorful train cars, at the local high school and along beautiful trails in Okeechobee. Friends and dance partners loved the idea of sharing this experience and presenting the art of dance alongside the visual arts.
As the Okeechobee Main Streets’ Arts & Culture Alliance Director, discovering how Grace Place brought dance and visual arts together caught my attention and is why I wanted to share their story. The Arts & Culture Alliance of Okeechobee County celebrates all genres of the arts, and it is so inspirational to see how creative the dancers were in overcoming challenges and disappointment during what has been a difficult time. I applaud all of the dancers!
Grace Place will be holding their 4th Annual Recital on June 5th at the Sunrise Theatre in Ft. Pierce, FL. For more information on Grace Place, go to their website at www.GracePlaceDanceFitnessFun.com.