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Volume 24, Number 5 — May 2017

Michele Plescia's earliest memory is dance

Michele Plescia with company members in 2011. (Photo by Tom Netherland)
Michele Plescia with company members in 2011. (Photo by Tom Netherland)

Choosen for AAME arts award

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | April 27, 2016

Michele Plescia's earliest memory of ballet happened before she ever took a dance class. "I remember driving down the hill on Cumberland Street frequently, past the old Masonic Temple building, where the sign outside said Bristol Ballet School. I imagined what it would be like to take ballet a big stage where the students would receive instructions from a teacher who would be sitting in the audience section calling out what to do."

At age 7, her mother enrolled Plescia in ballet classes at Bristol Ballet under the tutelage of Constance Hardinge. Her mother's intention was to let her experience each of the different arts in small increments a few years of ballet, a few years of piano, etc., but Plescia never left ballet. She says she "instantly fell in love with ballet and didn't mind missing Saturday morning cartoons to go to ballet class."

When Plescia was 9, Maria Tallchief (America's first major prima ballerina) chose her to receive a Ford Foundation Scholarship that paid her tuition at Bristol Ballet. When she was 10, she became the youngest member of the performing company and was chosen to dance the role of Clara in Bristol Concert Ballet Company's first full-length "Nutcracker." She later danced the roles of Arabian, Snow Queen, Marzipan and Flowers. She also performed in "Quatre Vignettes," "Les Sylphides" and the pas de deux from "Don Quixote."

She attended Sullins College on scholarship as a dance major and became a member of Arlington Dance Theatre, a professional company in Northern Virginia, directed by Carmen Matte (former prima ballerina at the National Ballet of Washington, D.C.).

In 1986, she re-joined Bristol Ballet as a performing company member. In 1990, she moved to the Chicago area and taught for a local studio. She then took over the dance program at the second largest park district in Illinois, where she directed four teachers and oversaw classes for more than 500 students.

She taught 25 hours weekly and started a small performing company to give the dancers a reason to stay with the program and grow as dancers. In 2001, she was accepted through audition to enroll in the Royal Academy of Dance's teacher training program. Academy members described her as "a gracious and unassuming lady," as having a "good eye for correction, a good rapport with her students and having high standards in demonstrating technique." After completing the three-year program and passing with merit, she returned to Bristol Ballet as artistic director with the task of breathing life back into the organization.

Starting from scratch (there were 15 students the first year), Plescia, the board of directors and community members worked to rebuild the school and company back to the company it was in Constance Hardinge's lifetime. As artistic director, Plescia's love for Bristol Ballet and the Tri-Cities area is apparent. She is dedicated to bringing the art of dance to as many students and audience members as she can. In her 12 years as artistic director, she has restored the organization to a healthy and sustainable nonprofit arts organization that provides training, education and entertainment to young and old alike.

She has restaged "The Nutcracker" and created several original works for Bristol Ballet, including the most recent "Unbroken Circle, Bristol's Music in Motion." This production uses many songs from the 1927 Bristol Sessions and has been heralded as locally historically important as well as entertaining.

She loves teaching and finding new ways to elicit the joy in movement from students. She is dedicated to promoting good, sound, safe technique to all of her students. She has attended seminars and workshops about the science of movement for ballet, in order to promote healthier bodies and help dancers learn to work within their physical limits and still have beautiful technique.

"I strongly believe that dance classes provide a lifetime of learning and benefits for those who participate, even if they don't become professional dancers. Qualities such as learning to take a compliment, or accepting constructive criticism; how to come back from disappointment; how to stand up straight and with your chin held high even if your heart is sinking low; and to know that you don't have to apologize for giving it your all — are all learned from ballet," she says.

And she believes firmly in providing the means for children to experience ballet, even if they can't afford tuition. Bristol Ballet has two scholarship/tuition assistance funds for just that purpose and provides work studies and reduced prices for special groups throughout the year.

"There isn't a day that goes by that all of us don't experience the arts in some way, without even realizing it," Plescia says. "Think about it — you hear music; you are inspired by a beautiful sunrise or stunning architecture. You watch a movie or sing a song while you're driving. I want everyone to recognize the life enhancement that the arts provide, whether you are an artist or an observer of the arts. Appreciation begins there."

She spends most of her time working for the ballet and is happy to have a job that she loves. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with good friends and sitting on her porch at her home in Kingsport, Tennessee, taking in the view of the mountains that line the back of her house.

"I am very excited to have been chosen for this award," she says. "First, I am in really good company. The other honorees certainly have well-known accomplishments in the community. I am honored to stand among them. And second, it's wonderful to recognize people for their efforts and accomplishments — not only for those chosen, but also to get conversations started about the arts and help promote the arts in general to the community. This is a very good thing."

Michele Plescia's earliest memory of ballet happened before she ever took a dance class. "I remember driving down the hill on Cumberland Street frequently, past the old Masonic Temple building, where the sign outside said Bristol Ballet School. I imagined what it would be like to take ballet a big stage where the students would receive instructions from a teacher who would be sitting in the audience section calling out what to do."

At age 7, her mother enrolled Plescia in ballet classes at Bristol Ballet under the tutelage of Constance Hardinge. Her mother's intention was to let her experience each of the different arts in small increments a few years of ballet, a few years of piano, etc., but Plescia never left ballet. She says she "instantly fell in love with ballet and didn't mind missing Saturday morning cartoons to go to ballet class."

When Plescia was 9, Maria Tallchief (America's first major prima ballerina) chose her to receive a Ford Foundation Scholarship that paid her tuition at Bristol Ballet. When she was 10, she became the youngest member of the performing company and was chosen to dance the role of Clara in Bristol Concert Ballet Company's first full-length "Nutcracker." She later danced the roles of Arabian, Snow Queen, Marzipan and Flowers. She also performed in "Quatre Vignettes," "Les Sylphides" and the pas de deux from "Don Quixote."

She attended Sullins College on scholarship as a dance major and became a member of Arlington Dance Theatre, a professional company in Northern Virginia, directed by Carmen Matte (former prima ballerina at the National Ballet of Washington, D.C.).

In 1986, she re-joined Bristol Ballet as a performing company member. In 1990, she moved to the Chicago area and taught for a local studio. She then took over the dance program at the second largest park district in Illinois, where she directed four teachers and oversaw classes for more than 500 students.

She taught 25 hours weekly and started a small performing company to give the dancers a reason to stay with the program and grow as dancers. In 2001, she was accepted through audition to enroll in the Royal Academy of Dance's teacher training program. Academy members described her as "a gracious and unassuming lady," as having a "good eye for correction, a good rapport with her students and having high standards in demonstrating technique." After completing the three-year program and passing with merit, she returned to Bristol Ballet as artistic director with the task of breathing life back into the organization.

Starting from scratch (there were 15 students the first year), Plescia, the board of directors and community members worked to rebuild the school and company back to the company it was in Constance Hardinge's lifetime. As artistic director, Plescia's love for Bristol Ballet and the Tri-Cities area is apparent. She is dedicated to bringing the art of dance to as many students and audience members as she can. In her 12 years as artistic director, she has restored the organization to a healthy and sustainable nonprofit arts organization that provides training, education and entertainment to young and old alike.

She has restaged "The Nutcracker" and created several original works for Bristol Ballet, including the most recent "Unbroken Circle, Bristol's Music in Motion." This production uses many songs from the 1927 Bristol Sessions and has been heralded as locally historically important as well as entertaining.

She loves teaching and finding new ways to elicit the joy in movement from students. She is dedicated to promoting good, sound, safe technique to all of her students. She has attended seminars and workshops about the science of movement for ballet, in order to promote healthier bodies and help dancers learn to work within their physical limits and still have beautiful technique.

"I strongly believe that dance classes provide a lifetime of learning and benefits for those who participate, even if they don't become professional dancers. Qualities such as learning to take a compliment, or accepting constructive criticism; how to come back from disappointment; how to stand up straight and with your chin held high even if your heart is sinking low; and to know that you don't have to apologize for giving it your all — are all learned from ballet," she says.

And she believes firmly in providing the means for children to experience ballet, even if they can't afford tuition. Bristol Ballet has two scholarship/tuition assistance funds for just that purpose and provides work studies and reduced prices for special groups throughout the year.

"There isn't a day that goes by that all of us don't experience the arts in some way, without even realizing it," Plescia says. "Think about it — you hear music; you are inspired by a beautiful sunrise or stunning architecture. You watch a movie or sing a song while you're driving. I want everyone to recognize the life enhancement that the arts provide, whether you are an artist or an observer of the arts. Appreciation begins there."

She spends most of her time working for the ballet and is happy to have a job that she loves. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with good friends and sitting on her porch at her home in Kingsport, Tennessee, taking in the view of the mountains that line the back of her house.

"I am very excited to have been chosen for this award," she says. "First, I am in really good company. The other honorees certainly have well-known accomplishments in the community. I am honored to stand among them. And second, it's wonderful to recognize people for their efforts and accomplishments — not only for those chosen, but also to get conversations started about the arts and help promote the arts in general to the community. This is a very good thing."

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