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Almost Heaven, West Virginia

Heading into the mountains of West Virginia, our four-person crew anxiously monitored the weather, which was promising thunder and lightning. It seemed this did happen, but before we arrived in Elkins, so crews were removing felled trees from roadways, and the outdoor pavilion where we were scheduled to film was blocked by a downed tree, which also took out the power lines!

Will Roboski, leader of the Appalachian Dance Ensemble, had found a new location by the time we arrived--the huge porch that encircles the historic Halliehurst Mansion, the administrative hub of Davis & Elkins college. An eclectic group of dancers greeted us. Choreographer Laurie Goux, director of the SpiritWing African-Caribbean dancers, and several of Will's Appalachian step dancers helped us determine a spot on the spacious porch, where the backdrop of D&E's lovely campus and the green mountains beyond could be seen.

The group had only learned of the film a few weeks previously, through an existing dance partner, Katy Dillon. Davis and Elkins has a vibrant dance tradition; clogging, square dance, Scottish Highland, and African diaspora dance forms are all preserved and practiced at this college.

Our director, Lan Tsubata, was soon working with the Caribbean-style dance the group had created. Merging the rhythms and steps to that of the symphony was the first hurdle. Then filming everything in the space, while accounting for the intermittent rain, was the next. Capturing the unique artistry of each group--movement, costuming, and traditions--is quite a challenge, in the few hours we have. We were amazed by the dynamic--yet graceful--dancing, and tried to capture that effectively.

Afterwards, sharing a meal, we asked the dancers about their dreams. One wants to open a dance institute--another to become a dance therapist. One girl said dance allows her to break through shyness, finding her real self. Their teacher and artistic director, Laurie Goux, said her dream is to see them launched working on their dreams.

Since many of them also participate in the Appalachian dance to be filmed the following morning, they returned to the studio to practice for that, as we found our way to our hotel to upload our footage and prepare for the next day's intensive day of shooting. To be continued!

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