Dance teacher Kim Shope is careful not to pollute.

Bun Warmers 

Dance teacher Kim Shope is careful not to pollute.

Folk singer Utah Phillips, invited to address a young writers' conference, reports looking out over the multitude of kids' faces and saying, "You are about to be told one more time that you are America's most valuable natural resource." He then asked, "Have you seen what they do to valuable natural resources? Have you seen a strip mine? Have you seen a clear-cut in a forest? Have you seen a polluted river? Don't ever let them call you a valuable natural resource."

The mission statement for Studio 150 -- which employs youthful apprentices to collaborate with professional artists -- calls young people "the most valuable natural resource." But Midtown School of Dance's Kim Shope, who oversees the program's dance apprentices, has proven her respect for them.

Shope founded the Midtown School of Dance three and a half years ago. It's located on 39th Street, where passersby can spot a life-sized Hamburglar statue on the upper-level balcony. The presence of an icon that glorifies hamburgers on the premises of a ballet school reveals open-mindedness in a discipline that most people associate with rigid traditionalism. That's not to say that Shope is relaxed about the quality she demands from her students. She was the first graduate of the Kansas City Ballet, and she danced as a professional in Todd Bolender's company there for years. Having danced at that level, she knows that "you have to insist on correct technique -- but you can do it in a positive way."

Because Shope lives above her studio -- "the commute is pretty nice," she says, laughing -- she's there whenever the kids show up, and she talks with her students while they stretch. "I know what's going on at school, and I know what's going on at home. One student lives in the neighborhood and she's always late, so I just call her up at five-'til and say, 'Okay, it's time to come to class now.'"

Shope believes that she was always in training to become a teacher as much as to become a dancer. "I was a very dedicated little bun head," she jokes. "I would go to the younger kids' classes sometimes just, I don't know, because I was a freak." The ballet mistress would ask her to explain her thought process to the younger kids as she did certain steps.

That is, in essence, what she's doing with her apprentices in Studio 150. She's showing them how to choreograph classes and performance pieces alike, then watch and instruct the dancers working with the material.

Studio 150 apprentices are working on sculpture and music as well. Recently, the Afro-Cuban ensemble headed by Patrick Conway had a jam session while the dancers used the music for improv. One of the band members wanted to get up and join the dancers. "He was actually quite graceful," Shope recalls.

But that wasn't as surprising as the skill her dancers demonstrated while working on a hip-hop piece. "It was so funny," she says, "watching a bunch of white girls do hip-hop."

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