Delaware Divsion of Arts award helps dance academy director to stage ‘Harry Potter’ ballet

For Michele Xiques Arnold, receiving a Delaware Division of the Arts fellowship for choreography and dance meant a lot of things — but top of mind was being better prepared to help the students at her dance academy.
Mrs. Arnold, director of First State Dance Academy, was selected as one of 19 Delaware artists by the division for their work. Portfolios from nearly 140 local creatives — from choreographers, to composers, to writers, to visual artists — were judged by out-of-state arts professionals.

“It’s nice to have recognition in the accolades from the state, which will hopefully tell people when they’re searching to find dance academy, pick First State,” she said.

Earning the Established Professional Award, Mrs. Arnold said she plans to use the $6,000 prize on a ballet show inspired by “Harry Potter.”

The show, presented by the academy’s DanceCompany-X, is set to debut at 6 p.m. on April 25 at Cape Henlopen High School near Lewes.

“There’s a lot of ‘Harry Potter’ fans, so I’m hoping this ballet will draw people who may have never been to the ballet to our show and have a new appreciation of it,” she said.

Mrs. Arnold was the recipient of the same award in 2014, as an emerging professional.

“This means a lot to me, recognizing me as an established professional,” she said.

Since that first award, she said that she has continued to improve.

“When I find music and stories, it challenges me, it pushes me,” she said. “If I’m not comfortable with something, I’ll research the style of dances. With each opportunity I get to choreograph, I grow.”

The show will take shape over the next few months. The work began with Mrs. Arnold settling on a story she enjoyed and taking notes to figure out how to adapt it to make sense on stage as a ballet. Next comes auditions, casting, finding music to match the mood to communicate to the audience, costumes, sets and backdrops.

This isn’t the first time Mrs. Arnold has adapted a popular series of beloved books. In 2011, she adapted “Twilight” for the stage. The show nearly sold out, and had a line wrapped around the building, she said.

Ballet, she noted, gets a bad rap for being perceived as long and boring, but she wants people to be excited about coming to a live show.

“Local dance companies can put on good shows, too,” she said. “People are always surprised — ‘Wow, I didn’t expect that.’ That’s kind of cool. I’m proud of my kids and crew.”

Mrs. Arnold’s dance career began in South Carolina, before her family was later stationed in Dover. There, she found Marion Tracy Dance Studio, where she continued her dance training until she attended Point Park University on a dance scholarship.

After going to New York to pursue a professional dance career, Mrs. Arnold focused on ballet and earned two professional dance contracts, where she worked for Empire State Ballet in New York and the Atlanta Ballet in Georgia.

“I decided I wanted to do more with dance, but on the other side of it,” she said. “So I came home to Delaware.”

In Delaware, she worked as an assistant to the director and as a teacher at Delaware Ballet until Maria Fry Bagley asked if she would take over her dance studio in Milford.

“You never stop,” she said of her work at First State. “Even though I leave the studio, I’m working on future schedules and programs, always trying to do more research and better the academy.”

The academy, she said, is a safe and nurturing environment for dancers.

“Student can come in to dance for fun or for social reasons, or they can come in with professional hopes and dreams,” she said. “We want to create that has an equal balance of being able to offer instruction to each individual child’s goals.”

Although she has been teaching for nearly 30 years, Mrs. Arnold is looking forward to learning more in the future, she said. She noted an interest in doing in depth workshops and training for ballet to hone her own skills.

“The better I can be, the more I can do for my students,” she said.

“I’m grateful I have the dancers and the opportunity to be able to do this, because that’s what I do. That’s my job, that’s my life and I love it. I don’t just do this on the side for fun; I do it because I’m serious about it,” she continued. “The academy has tons of success stories. That’s the best part of having my academy, we’re able to provide that.”