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First City Dance Studio is making strides on a national stage

Cathy Marcotte, owner of First City Dance Studio, works on a dance routine with a group of after-school dancers on Tuesday evening. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — Starting with a handful of students, First City Dance Studio now has grown to nearly 200 dancers making strides on the regional and national dance scene.

Cathy Marcotte has taken her team of 38 dancers — ages 8 to 38 — to competitions in Duluth and the Twin Cities and they recently were nominated to compete in some national events. The team will be featured Saturday at the "Extra! Extra! Read All About It" spring dance show at Bemidji High School. And tonight, 16 dancers from First City have been invited to dance onstage with the crew from "Ultimate Thriller — "The Michael Jackson Tribute" at the Sanford Center.

First City teaches a combination of traditional ballet school curriculum, mostly because of the turnover of teachers, but it also allows her students to be exposed to the different dance methods such as American, Italian and French, which Marcotte believes is a positive.

"It is very important that my teachers have a dance background," said Marcotte. "My students have learned tap, ballet and jazz from me for the last nine years, but it is very important that they get training from someone who has a good background by having taken classes with reputable schools."

The dance team’s success also can be credited to First City’s young choreographers such as Randie Swanson and Kirsten Goldstein, as well as support from dancers’ other instructors, as well as family.

"I am very lucky to be in a town that has Bemidji State University because a lot of my faculty are at BSU and have been trained at some phenomenal dance schools in the cities," Marcotte said. "(Kirsten) Goldstein, who graduated from the Perpich Center Arts High School and was a dance major at Minnesota State University, transferred over to BSU to finish her degree in a different field. She is a fabulous ballet mistress and runs my ballet program. She choreographed a modern dance piece that got platinum, which is the highest award you can get at a competition."

Swanson, who is from Brainerd, studied at Music General and is one of the primary choreographers in tap and jazz.

"She is young, energetic, a visionary," said Marcotte. "(She) actually choreographed quite a few of our pieces that did quite well winning first and second place. These young choreographers are brilliant, they’re just so creative for my well-grounded students"

California background

Growing up in Orange County, Calif., Marcotte was deeply rooted in the theater and dance scene there.

"When I was 5 or 6 years old, I danced at a local studio and her top students got to audition for the new Mickey Mouse Club. I didn’t make it to the Mickey Mouse Club," said Marcotte, "but I did get an agent and several commercials." That agent also led to Marcotte playing a young Lois Lane in a scene from the "Superman: The Movie" in 1978.

"I was 10 years old and my parents in the movie played Clark Kent and Lois Lane in the original (1948) Superman movie."

While living in southern California, Marcotte also danced with the Los Angeles Ballet Co. and was a background dancer for funk and R&B musician Jeffrey Osborne and did three separate tours to Japan with the company. She established a very good, production dance background and taught jazz, tap and some ballet for some high profile studios in Orange County.

Bemidji was not on her radar. But she then met her husband, James, who is originally from Bemidji, while he was stationed at Camp Pendleton. Now, the couple has one dancer daughter, Katrina, and two budding hockey players, daughter Meggie and son Hunter.

A move to Bemidji and children did not prevent Marcotte from joining the local arts scene. She hooked up with Bemidji Community Theater for a dinner/show production as publicity director and then moved onto choreographing "Babes in Toyland" in 2004 and "Kiss Me, Kate" in 2007, among other credits. But she soon realized she would need to start a dance studio herself that could meet daughter Katrina’s needs. Now, she has a studio with students from 3 years old on up to adulthood.

And, there are many other benefits to dance beside the physical. Studies have shown improved math scores for dance students. Marcotte thinks it is because of patterns a dancer needs to memorize and perform.

"Dance is all about patterns," Marcotte said. "With the patterns and musicality, there is a correlation between geometry, there is counting by eights and the formations that dancers make in a three-minute dance number. They go from straight lines, to triangles, to circles and they learn those patterns at a very young age and by 3, they know the difference between a line and a circle; know how to create those shapes and dance at the same time. The children are learning while having fun."

Dance also benefits self-confidence, which can help students in other areas of school, as well.

Through the years, Marcotte has had many students pursue dance outside of Bemidji.

"My studio caters to those students who want to dance; they dance at home in their living room, they dance here, they’re dancing at the grocery store. They are passionate and once they are ready, I encourage them to seek further training at the Rief Center in Grand Rapids," she said. "A few of my students have gone off to study with national ballet companies like Kate Loxtercamp, who will be at Lincoln Center this summer. Another former student, Ingrid Dehler-Seter is now in college as a dance major."

Marcotte said one of her students, middle-school dancer Annika Sletta, just received a Region 2 Artist Mentor Grant to study at the three-week ballet intensive dance camp at the Rief Center with the James Sewell Dance Co.

"First City Dance is a great school to start out learning dance," Sletta said, "because they give you a good foundation, they are definitely an amazing place to start out."