Forty years of dancing

Beckie’s Studio tap dance students, from left, Leela Andrew, Brianna Brown, Alya Collins, Alexys McCall and Avie Durrant, practice Wednesday. (Ronald Bond, The Observer)

Beckie’s Studio of Dance, 110 Depot St. in La Grande, founded by professional Portland dancer Beckie Thompson-Hendrickson, is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

The dance school teaches dance language, pre-ballet, ballet, pointe classes, beginning to advance Broadway tap lessons, jazz and hip-hop, senior company jazz, acrobatics and tumbling. The staff at the school includes Betsy Carson, Chelsie Musgrove and Heather Watson, all former students of Thompson-Hendrickson. All the advanced classes are personally taught by Thompson-Hendrickson, or “Teacher Beckie” as some students respectfully call her.

“The three teachers at my studio have been with me since they were little girls and are now in their mid-30s,” said Thompson-Hendrickson. “Every year, two to three times a year, we travel outside of La Grande to take workshops and master classes, and they also take teacher training classes to continue teaching at my studio.”

Thompson-Hendrickson founded her studio in 1979 when she moved to La Grande from Portland to raise her children away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

“It was a little bit of a cultural change for me coming here, but not long after I arrived, an opportunity to teach dance opened up with the City of La Grande, and I applied for it,” she said. “That same year I also opened my dance studio at 211 Fir Street.”

There were four or five applicants for the job, and she was offered the position. She credits this, in part, to her having dance certificates, something she worked hard to earn through her dance education.

“I’ve danced all my life, starting at age 3 with the Academy of Dance Arts, where I received my first certificate,” she said. “I’ve earned other certificates since then from other schools.”

Thompson-Hendrickson’s credentials begin with her study with Dance USA out of Warrick, New Jersey, as a young teenager for seven years, and then with the Portland Ballet Theater (now Portland Ballet) and the Portland Repertory Theater. She also earned a certificate as a dance and drill coach and adjudicator for Oregon.

While teaching at her La Grande studio, she taught in other venues. In 1981-82, she taught for the La Grande School District as a choreographer, working with the cheerleaders, marching band and gymnastics team. The La Grande High School principal, Dale Wyatt, told her they needed a dance teacher, so she took over the LHS dance team. Under her coaching, the dance team was eventually ranked one of the top eight teams in Oregon, ranked in class 4A with the big schools. She also coached the EOU dance team for a few years.

“When I resigned from coaching the LHS dance team in 1998, I began teaching for the theater department at Eastern Oregon University, and all the while I was running my dance studio,” she said. “Up until a few years ago, I was working for the theater department.”

Thompson-Hendrickson has also helped choreograph a couple of plays at the Elgin Opera House.

“Every choreographer they have had there (in the past 10 years) are students of mine,” she said — McKaye Harris and Caitlin O’Brien among them.

The list of success stories goes on. Some of her students have gone on to be yoga teachers, performers and dance instructors locally and in Idaho, Seattle and Portland. One even performed with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Among the dancers guided by Beckie’s Studio of Dance is Thompson-Hendrickson’s daughter, Daisy Thompson Giddings.

“Both of my children were raised in my dance studio, so they were exposed to music, dance and art their entire lives. Daisy, a former Portland Trail Blazer dancer, went off to become a professional dancer who danced all over South America and went to school at University of Texas.”

Her son, George Thompson, a professional musician and graduate of Eastern Oregon University, has traveled all over the world. He designed music programs for kids with autism and even worked for “Sesame Street.” In 2005, he was named one of the top 10 singer-songwriters in the nation.

“So those are my children,” she said proudly. “Because of choosing to raise them in this beautiful community, they went on to do beautiful things with music and dance.”

Her children will perform together at the studio’s Spring Recital on June 6 in the LHS auditorium. The recital begins at 6:30 p.m. Admission is $10 for teens and adults and $8 for kids 12 years and younger.

Today the studio’s staff teaches about 75 students, many of whom will be dancing at the Spring Recital. Thompson-Hendrickson welcomes the community to support their Spring Recital with their attendance and join in celebrating 40 years of dance education in Union County. The proceeds of the event go to the studio’s financial assistance program for dance students.

Registration dates for the studio’s summer programs will take place June 7 and June 17. between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the studio. Summer camp will begin the week of June 10, and a five-week summer session will start the first week of July. For more information on class hours, cost and registration, call 541-805-8317.

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