Cruzan Dance Company is poised to pirouette back onto the dance floor.
Originally founded in 2003, the company was forced to close their doors after the Hovensa oil refinery closing on St. Croix, but founder and artistic director Alexander E. Simon and his board are currently raising funds to reopen with an international dance company, a junior company and a school for the general public.
Simon has been training formally in dance from the age of 13, when he was recruited by Heidi Wright and Sonja Dickerson-Faust, co-owners of Pointe Dance Academy on St. Croix, after dancing in a production of “Guys and Dolls” at the Island Center for the Performing Arts. Offered a full scholarship, he started training in earnest.
“My dance career took off from there,” said Simon. “In their eyes, I was just a born natural to dance. To have so much flexibility in movement, that was a plus for me. The passion I had behind the movement was something that just added to the table once I started performing.”
It was grueling at times, and often hurtful. On the mile and a half walk to the academy each day for dance class, he was often met with ridicule and derision for his sexual orientation from men and older teens along the way, at times being pelted with rocks and stones, but Simon didn’t let that stop him from persevering and moving forward.
“Back then things were a lot harsher than it is now as far as acceptance for the LGBTQ community, but I managed get through that and become a mentor for others walking a similar path. It’s encouraging to them that I was able to rise above that and still be able to guide them through their process as well, especially when it comes to the performing arts, because art doesn’t care about your race or your gender. Art is art. That’s just one thing that’s so beautiful about it. It’s so diverse, like a melting pot of so much. It’s the same thing that the territory has, and that is what was extremely attractive to me then, and it’s even more attractive to me now to come back and give back once again.”
The Pointe Dance Academy scholarship led to many others, with the prestigious Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico, Cheshire Dance Centre in Hamden, Conn., Valencia College Summer Dance Program, The University of the Arts, The Rock School in Philadelphia, Pa., The Joffrey Ballet School, Dance Theatre of Harlem and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in New York City.
Professionally, Simon has danced with Eleone Dance Theatre and the internationally renowned Koresh Dance Company in Philadelphia. During his professional performance training, he has worked with internationally recognized choreographers to include Donald Byrd, Milton Meyers, Robert Battle and Abdell Salaam of Forces of Nature Dance Company in New York City. He has also taught numerous master classes at universities and dance schools throughout the country and continues to expand on his extensive list of choreography credits.
It was through one of these master classes that Cruzan Dance Company came into being. In 2003, while performing with the Koresh Dance Company at the Reichhold Center for the Arts on St. Thomas, Simon was asked to lead a master class. The overwhelming response to the class prompted him to return to St. Croix to establish what is now Cruzan Dance Company, Inc. for summer programs, and officially established the Cruzan Dance Center as a dance school on St. Croix in 2005.
When the Hovensa oil refinery closed, Cruzan Dance Company was forced to take a hiatus. Since then, the group has done occasional workshops in Florida and Texas, but no major projects. However, the board of directors feels that now is the time to reemerge.
Cruzan Dance Company is currently in the process of raising funds to procure a new space on St. Croix. Now registered as a nonprofit organization, they are in the process of applying for grants and hope to open a physical location in 2021.
“We are relying on the community, big companies or anyone who wants to donate to a positive cause to create an outlet for the youth, not only for St. Croix but for St. Thomas as well, where there aren’t as many programs, especially for dance,” said Simon. “It has always been my mission at some point to create an annex on St. Thomas called the Cruzan Dance Connection. I’m not always thinking about just one island, I’m thinking about the U.S. Virgin Islands, all of them.”
Cruzan Dance Company kicked off their season with a Fantasy Flair international Halloween makeup competition under their Stella Radiance HFM (hair, fashion, makeup) program, celebrating artists that don’t get as much recognition and giving them a platform where they can express their creativity. The winner will be the face of the campaign for a fall fashion show celebrating makeup artists, fashion designers and cosmetologists and hopefully garner public and private school attention to encourage their participation as well.
A series of virtual Zoom N Dance classes were introduced this week and will run through Thursday. Classes include African movement, belly dancing, hip-hop, modern jazz and dance fitness. Classes are being taught by instructors from New York, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and are $10 to $12 per class. Register at cruzandancecenter.org/zoomndance.
In December, Cruzan Dance Company will host a large master classes/audition for both the junior company for children ages 10 to 17, Cruzan Dance Movement, and the Cruzan Dance Company for those 18 and older, who will travel both nationally and internationally representing the Virgin Island as dance ambassadors. The next day, Simon will hold a Strictly Stilettos class for adult women.
Once the physical location has been opened, the school will offer dance classes for children from the age of three through adulthood.
Other projects the company is involved in are the Give Thanks initiative, partnering with My Girlfriend’s Closet to create a Thanksgiving food basket for one lucky family on St. Croix and their Lend a Hand Community Outreach which works within the community with other organizations.
For more information, register for classes or to donate visit cruzandancecenter.org.