That’s how Sky-Marie McDonald describes the state of her non-profit youth dance program, Wild Rivers Coast Foundation for Dance, after being given 30 days notice to terminate her lease by the landlord of her studio last month.
“The studio isn’t behind on rent, we’ve paid faithfully during the pandemic even when we had to close and couldn’t use the space,” McDonald said. “The property manager told me the landlord wanted more money and had other plans for the building.”
McDonald founded the Wild Rivers Conservatory of Dance in 2015, after moving to Brookings from Texas. The following year she established the non-profit Wild Rivers Coast Foundation for Dance. The non-profit organization was created to help promote more dance awareness and education along the southern Oregon coast.
McDonald’s has extensive professional experience and offers classes in a variety of disciplines, including ballet, modern, tap and other styles. She teaches toddlers, high school students and even adults. McDonald’s teaches classes year-round, creates two major shows a year, and also brings in other guest professional dancers and teachers on a seasonal basis.
“I had planned to bring in a dancer from the Rockettes this summer, and another from New York City Ballet, to work with our local dancers. I’m not sure that will happen now because I have to move the studio quickly,” said she declared.
Korinne Luis has been dancing with McDonald’s since she was 10 years old. Now 16, Luis admired older dancers when she started, but now she’s stepping into a big sister role at the studio.
“These guys are my family and this place is like my home,” Luis said. “I came here a year after moving here, and this was where I really felt like I had friends, and I felt like I belonged here.”
Sometimes Luis says she’s in the studio seven days a week. She said she couldn’t imagine not having a safe place to come and express herself.
After the death of the longtime owner of McDonald’s, the studio and other adjacent properties were put up for sale. She said the new landlord had raised rents since they bought it last year and then her month-to-month lease was terminated with just one month’s notice.
Now, McDonald said she’s been looking for a new space, but has yet to find anything affordable that also meets their needs as a studio. In their current space, they have a large dance hall and a room for creating and storing costumes and props. Not to mention that it is within walking distance of colleges and high schools.
“The location was perfect for us. Lots of kids walk from school, and it’s also kind of the neighborhood hangout,” McDonald said. “It’s just kind of a safe, friendly, creative space…I get a random boy here and there who just walked in and wants to join a class.”
McDonald said she never turns them down; boys are also welcome.
“I have about a dozen boys signed up,” McDonald said, “which is great for a town like this.”
Dance moms Jessica Eichlin and Bonnie Ell are particularly concerned about losing the studio because there are few creative arts youth programs in this area.
Ell and her daughter Sarai were introduced to McDonald’s and Wild Rivers Dance through a Parent and Tot dance class six years ago. Sarai, now 8 years old, has been coming since.
“It definitely provides that kind of cultural diversity and opportunity for artistic expression that we just don’t have anywhere else, there’s no other dance studio in all of Curry County, and certainly not the one which is led by a professional dancer,” Ell said. .
Eichlin and her daughter Brooke recently moved to Brookings and discovered Wild Rivers Dance soon after.
“I have always been passionate about dance and theatre. Kids need a creative outlet, and I was so glad it was here…and it’s the only place,” Eichlin said.
Wild Rivers Dance offers a few major productions throughout the year, including an annual rendition of “The Nutcracker”, which can attract nearly 1,000 spectators. Due to the pandemic, they did not perform “Nutcracker” last year, but instead made a feature film. From the clips, it looks like a professionally acted and produced movie, basically directed by McDonald and his students. McDonald said the film will soon screen at Brookings. Their most recent show was in the spring, “The Celebration of Hope”. For this performance, McDonald said she had 76 dancers on stage.
McDonald said many dancers in his program have gone on to pursue dance at a higher level.
“It may be a small town, but my students fit in well when traveling to dance in other intensive programs, like Eugene Ballet and San Francisco Ballet, and my former students have been competitive enough to get into some really good college dances. programs. I’m very proud of that,” she said.
If Wild Rivers Dance disappears, Korinne, Sarai, Brooke and many other dancers may lose not just a second home, but a rare small-town opportunity to express themselves and pursue their dreams.