Arts & Entertainment

Hundreds of dancers headed to Richland

Ballet students are products of their teachers.

Debra Rogo, ballet teacher and director of Richland-based Mid-Columbia Ballet, believes that from the core of her artistic soul. And when the company plays host to the Regional Dance America/Pacific Festival on May 12-15, Rogo's ballet teacher will be there.

His name is Athol Willoughby and he's traveling from Australia to see how his long-ago student is faring as a teacher herself.

"I studied ballet from the age of 9 until I was 17 from Athol," Rogo said. "My mother chose his school because of the large sign she saw from the train window as we traveled from the suburbs into the city of Melbourne.

"Boy, I was lucky he had a big sign! He was a wonderful teacher and I'm thrilled he'll be here."

The festival draws nearly 700 dancers from California, Oregon, Washington, Utah and Arizona who will attend classes on ballet technique as well as other methods of dance.

Faculty on hand to teach the classes and to hold seminars are coming from all over the country for four days of sharing all aspects of the art of dance, said Joel Rogo, the company's business director.

"The best part of this festival is the exposure the dancers will have with some of the finest dancers in the country, as well as the opportunity to earn scholarships," he said.

For Debra Rogo, this year's festival will give her the opportunity not only to catch up with her teacher, but also to show him how his mentoring shaped her as a teacher.

"We truly are products of our ballet teachers, and for many of us those teachers shaped our careers and lives, just as Athol shaped mine," she said.

Willoughby spent his early dance career with the Australian National Theatre Ballet Company. He later danced in Britain with the Western Theatre Ballet in Bristol before heading home in 1962, where he opened his own studio, the Essendon Academy of Ballet.

He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia by Queen Elizabeth II in 2001 for his work in dance education.

Because of the large number of dancers taking part in the festival, classes and seminars will be at the Richland Community Center next to Howard Amon Park, and the Tri-Cities Academy of Ballet, 21 Aaron Drive in Richland.

There will be public performances May 13-14 at 6 p.m. and May 15 at 7 p.m. in the Richland High auditorium. Admission is $20 at the door or at

*Dori O'Neal: 582-1514;