By Sandra Zunino
As if getting 65 teens to move across the stage in graceful tandem wasn’t demanding enough, throwing tap in the mix really raised the bar. But Amber Stapleton, Kent Island High School’s Dance teacher, rose to the challenge in this year’s production of 42nd Street.
With opening night on Thursday, March 5, Amber had her work cut out for her. Choreographing a majority of the dance numbers as well as instructing the cast, all of whom dance in the musical, has been keeping her busy working 12-hours days.
Amber has been lending her creative talents to the KIHS drama department for several productions including last year’s A Christmas Carol and A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream in 2006.
“This show is particularly difficult because it has tap in it,” explains Amber. “Not all students, even though they may be good dancers, are proficient in tap.” Counting, posture and footwork in tap differs from jazz or ballet, according to Amber. Because of the traditional “tapping” sound, unified precision is also crucial.
When choreographing KIHS’s version of 42nd Street, Amber says she studied Busby Berkeley’s choreography from the original 1980 Broadway production. She says she also drew on experience from her performance in Dinner Theatre of Annapolis’s production of 42nd Street. “The rest of it comes from my head,” she laughs. “I also bounced ideas back and forth with other professional dancers.”
Managing the production’s large cast also proved taxing. “It’s been difficult because the stage can only hold so many students at one time,” she says. “It’s been challenging for the students as well, but they’ve done an excellent job.”
Amber says she enjoys helping with the productions because she gets to work with students she normally would not meet outside her classes. Dancing in the plays has also inspired students to sign up for her dance classes. “They just have such a good time,” she says. “These kids are having a blast and they are learning something.”
Amber brings 31 years of dance experience to the play. She studied ballet, tap and jazz at the Dashiell School of Dancing and added modern dance to her repertoire while attending Salisbury State University. Teaching for 11 years, nine of which in Queen Anne’s County, she came to KIHS three years ago. “Coming to Kent Island was probably one of the best things I’ve done professionally,” she says. “I enjoy teaching dance and I love high schoolers.”
Perhaps Amber’s love for her job is behind her effervescent personality. Always cheerful and positive, despite working long hours, she is a favorite teacher among her students. “She’s really fun and lets us express ourselves,” says Liz Scalco, 16, of Stevensville. “She’s taught me to be a much better dancer.”
In addition to instructing dance, Amber teaches classes in Athletic Movement, Aerobics and Motor Activities, which helps children with disabilities strengthen and refine motor skills. After school, Amber coaches KIHS Dance Company, and acts as assistant coach for Amy Tedford, who instructs the KIHS Dance Team. Amy also choreographs dances for the plays including part of the opening number for 42nd Street.
After 42nd Street, Amber will be concentrating on the Dance Company’s Spring Show in May. In addition to her work at the school, she helps in her community and church. “I try to get out there and help as best I can because I enjoy what I do,” she says. “It’s part of who I am.”