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Dance revolution

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Tamiya Earley, choreographer and a dance instructor for Selah Theatre Project, shows a dance move to students Joann Smith, 7, in back, and Amari Smith-Shields, 8. — Dennis Grundman/Daily

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La Tasha Jones, founder and owner of Selah Theatre Proect, interacts with students at an acting session. — Dennis Grundman/Daily

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Prince Jones, 6, does an impression of a bear during an acting lesson for Selah Theatre Group. — Dennis Grundman/Daily

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La Tasha Jones works with Prince Jones, at front, Amari Smith-Shields, back left, and Joann Smith during an acting class for Selah Theatre Group. — Dennis Grundman/Daily

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Dance instructor Tamiya Earley leads students through a routine for Selah Theatre Project. — Dennis Grundman/Daily

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La Tasha Jones, founder and owner of Selah Theatre Project, laughs with drama students Amari Smith-Shields, 8, at front, and Joann Smith, 7. — Dennis Grundman/Daily


Selah Theatre Project teaches performing arts to area children

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- What makes Selah Theatre Project in Winchester different from other theater programs could be exactly what the area's children will like about it.

Part dance studio, part improvisational theater group, Selah Theatre Project, at the Bright Center on North Loudoun Street, offers an opportunity for children of all ages to combine many forms of performing arts into a fun experience.

"It's not just one technique of art," said owner and founder La Tasha Jones.

She expects the classes will appeal to children of all theatrical abilities, levels and interests -- for "the gung-ho Broadway Glee kids," as well as those who simply want to learn something new and fun.

"We want as many dynamics as possible," she said.

"And then we also offer that opportunity for students who cannot afford those other studios."

Jones hopes to encourage interest with her low rates, $80 for a series of eight 90-minute classes that include dance and theater.

Classes will be available for ages ranging from 3 to 18, she said. Saturday classes began Oct. 1.

Choreographer Tamiya Earley and performing artist LaToya Clacken join Jones in running the programs at Selah.

"They are my creative team," said Jones, 26.

"We're doing this because we all have children," she said. "We offer that opportunity for those kids who seem to be left behind."

Inspired by her daughter's autism diagnosis, Jones also plans a curriculum for children with autism, but so far, she said, her 7-year-old keeps up with mainstream dancing for her age.

Her son, too, has a creative streak. Not so much a dancer, the 6-year-old plans to perform as Tiny Tim in Apollo Theatre's upcoming production of "A Christmas Carol" in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Having attended the Governor's School for the Performing Arts in Norfolk, Jones long has entertained a passion for the arts. She majored in musical theater at Shenandoah University before switching to religious studies.

"I think teaching was my first passion, especially to young ones," she said.

"The idea has been stirring for three years," she said. "I've just been revamping, coming up with ideas."

The first scheduled drama performance Jones is planning -- "Children's Letters to God" -- will be in the spring.

"It's really just about children trying to figure out who this God person is," she said. Characters portray children dealing with divorce or death, or being the youngest child, as well as other typical childhood trials.

"The play derived from a book called 'Dear God,'" she said.

Jones hopes to revamp the idea many people might have about children's religious community plays.

"Which is great, because I do not like corny church drama," she said.

The play sounds religious in name, but Jones said it isn't preachy and can reach all children. She also plans to offer a variety of plays throughout the year.

"So no, it won't be all religious plays, I just like this play," she said.

Registration for Selah Theatre Project is available year-round for now, in order to encourage the community's interest, and those interested should register online at www.selahtheatreproject.org.

Another aspect of Jones' vision is Selah Theatre Company, a volunteer community theater, which she said already has had performances around Winchester.

Upcoming performances in 2012 include "The Colored Museum" in February, "The Good Body" in April and "The Laramie Project" in October, and Jones hopes the group will use buildings around town for performances, such as the Civil War Courthouse for "The Colored Museum."

"The best thing about the community theater project is I don't like to be constricted," she said. She likes being able to move from place to place depending on the play and what's available for the group.

"I like to be a random person performing in random places," she said.

Jones said part of the money Selah Theatre Company brings in will go to the We Count scholarship for children to attend classes at Selah Theatre Project.

"We're not just about tuition-paying students, we're about opportunity," she said.
"I still believe it's going to soar," Jones said. "It's different."

Selah Theatre Project is in the Bright Center at 9 N. Loudoun St. in Winchester. For information, visit www.selahtheatreproject.org.






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