Spreading the love of dance throughout Lansing

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BY: AMANDA CHODNICKI

LANSING STAR STAFF WRITER

LANSING- Missy Lilje, chief executive director at Happendance, broadens the accessibility of the art of dance throughout the Lansing community.

Lilje opens up Happendance to dancers of all ages and skill. She said there are dancers anywhere from three-year-old beginners to collegiate professionals who come to take classes.

Happendance students perform around Lansing throughout the year

“Not only do the students love performing, but the audience full of family, friends and community members love it just as much,” Lilje said. “Maybe even more!”

Getting students involved

Happendance instructors like Lilje also go out to schools in Lansing and spread their love of dance.

“At the end of last year, the Lansing School District cut physical education, arts and music from their budget,” Lilje said. “The teachers that are leftover call us up to come into their classrooms to get the students moving and help them engage.”

Lilje said that they tie the teacher’s curriculum into the movements they do with the children.

“Most of the funding we get from the Greater Lansing Arts Council allows us to go into K-6 classrooms,” she said. “To me, this is important because these children are still developing their motor skills and dance can help them do that.”

Last year, Lilje said Happendance reached more than 4,000 students in Lansing. She said with the budget cuts, they’re predicting they’ll reach way more students this year.

In addition, Happendance engages students at Michigan State University and Lansing Community College

Photo Credit: MSU Theatre Department

. Students from these institutions take their college classes and practice their performances through Happendance.

Chain reaction of love

“Dance to me is a lot of things,” Lilje said. “It’s a physical outlet, it’s therapeutic and it’s expressive. It’s a place where I can get in touch with my thoughts and feelings through my heart and body and just express.”

Lilje also said that dancing makes her a better version of herself. She said her goal is to work to make her students better dancers and more importantly, better individuals.

“When I walk out of class, I feel confident,” Bri Baker said. “And when I’m confident, I instantly feel better about myself.”

The path to now

Lilje said she trained at Happendance as a child and then went on to Ann Arbor for her undergraduate work. Later, she traveled to Phoenix for graduate school, studying modern dance.

She said she didn’t plan to end up back at Happendance, but it just happened.

“I love working here,” Lilje said. “But even if I didn’t, I would have Happendance to thank for allowing me to grow up with such a great atmosphere. I owe Happendance for my love for dance.”

The path to the future

“Clearly, I love dance,” Lilje said. “But I want to make the Lansing community fall in love with it as well.”

She said that there is always a way to perform, volunteer or even be in the audience.

“I want people to realize that in dance, there really is a place for everyone,” Lilje said.

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