The Academy of Performing Arts (Kathleen Whitman Francis, Director) opened in September of 1993 with 70 students. Within 4 years, student numbers tripled, and APA has maintained a balance of 210-230 students per year every year since. Kathy's focus is on personal attention and quality training for each and every student enrolled at APA. Her commitment within her studio has been to personally instruct as many of the younger students’ dance classes as possible. Although her faculty has grown over the past few years, the commitment to use qualified, adult instructors has remained.
The original APA studio space was downtown Alma, a neighbor to the Gratiot County Players' Strand Theater, and shared space with Christie Freestone's Mid-Michigan Highland Dancers. Bursting at the seams for studio space, and involved in a Community Arts Center project to find collaborative space for various artist studios and potential gallery and performance spaces, Kathy "joined forces" with the Alma Community Center, first through the Alma Public Schools, and then with the City of Alma, to revive the community center for use for enrichments and community use. With the pending closure of the community center by the city, in August of 2007 APA moved back to the heart of downtown Alma, to 319 North State Street. This central location is close to shops, restaurants, and convenient walking distance from schools and neighborhoods. The larger space has beautiful hardwood floors on wood beam construction; 2 large, open studios and third practice studio; open observation; air conditioning; an aesthetically pleasing, artistically inspiring, open space!
The original APA mission statement:
“To offer every student the highest quality training possible, whether you are an aspiring performer, dancer, or just looking for fun and exercise! In addition to steps and movement, I believe the performance arts are an important tool for teaching discipline, positive attitude, self-confidence, commitment and the setting and achievement of goals. My goal is to create performance opportunities for students, as well as exposure to, and education of, the public.”
With that goal, Kathy has pursued her labor of love - sharing dance programs and her dance students' talents within the public schools, and building local opportunities for her dancers to use their dance abilities in local performance venues. Each year within the spring student concert, all tap and jazz classes present dances and work learned throughout the year. The special focus of the studio, however, has been to present a one-act ballet each year. Not only is this ballet presented in the spring concert, but again in the fall for elementary schools.
APA's Ballet for the Schools program has been a focal point since it's conception. The local public schools send classes by bus to the Alma College Heritage Center for daytime performances, and the response from students, teachers, and administrators is joyously overwhelming! As a culturally underserved community, many young students never have opportunities to attend concerts and arts programs, specifically dance, without this program. With the support of Alma College, and through applying for and receiving grants from arts groups such as the Gratiot County Community Foundation, Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs, and Art Reach of Mid Michigan, Kathy has presented the following original ballets, which she has choreographed:
Cinderella; Peter Pan; The Magic Toy Shoppe; Lion King; The Great American Western; Alice in Wonderland; The Ballet of Creation; Fantastic Toy Shoppe and All that Jazz
In addition to these Ballet for the Schools programs, presented at Alma College, APA has also taken programs into the schools, such as numerous productions of Peter and the Wolf, Puss in Boots, and Music of the Beatles. Not only are these productions great exposure to dance for school students, but offer tremendous opportunities for APA dance students to perform.
Kathy Francis has also been an Adjunct Professor of Dance at Alma College since 1991, and former Gratiot County Players board member, and has collaborated with those groups, offering not only her talents of choreography and directing, but her students' involvements as well. Her dancers have been featured in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Wizard of Oz, and Kevin Fitzgibbon's GCP Talent Showcases, as well as three GCH Auxiliary Hospital Follies. APA faculty has choreographed for GCP as well: Judi Swartz choreographed Nunsense and Nunsensations; Telli Luneack choreographed Wizard of Oz and In Balance; and Kathy choreographed Little Shop of Horrors and directed A Talent Showcase.
Over the years, she has had numerous high school dancers involved as members of the Alma College Dance Company, performing in various ballet, modern, and guest artist pieces. Her advanced ballet class was included in the ballet Coppelia, and each Nutcracker production presents many of her young ballet students. The 2004 Alma College Nutcracker had 38 APA students in its production!
Kathy also often shares her passion for dance at the First Church of God of Alma, where she and dance students and church members share their dance gifts with the congregation. Kathy and APA instructor Michelle Lucchesi co-founded and directed a non-denominational dance group, Spirit Wings, for several years, and are now involved in their own home churches with sharing dance in worship.
Kathy continues to be involved with pushing to bring professional level dance performers and teachers to the Alma community. She has sponsored and encouraged Alma College concerts and teaching workshops with groups such as Especially Tap Chicago, River North Dance Company, professional jazz/hip hop instructor Glenn Packard, and Rhythm I.S.S tap company. Kathy is a board member of the Pine River Arts Council and a founding member.