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Armstead choreographs youth dancers

Three upcoming performances of The Phipps Dance Company will feature dance pieces with styles that range from hip-hop to jazz and from modern to lyrical March 20 and 21 at The Phipps Center for the Arts.

Guest choreographer Denise Armstead has choreographed a piece entitled "Shake Sugar-Free" that involved the 11 dancers' dreams about what it would be like to be really free. She set those thoughts to the music of Elizabeth Cotton, an African American woman who turned a right-handed guitar upside down to play it. In the particular piece chosen for this dance, Cotton, whose music wasn't recognized until she was in her 90s, sings about pawning clothing, watches, and cows to be free. Also threaded throughout the piece is music by Porno for Pyros, which tells about still struggling to be free, and music by The Moody Blues, who sing about how free and empowering it is to be a singer in a rock and roll band.

"The girls gave this piece its influence and heart," said Armstead, a founding member of the Zenon Dance Company.

Armstead's career has spanned the globe from Saigon to Switzerland where she has worked with some of the top leaders in the field of dance. In 2003 she became associated with Aerial World, choreographing and performing commissioned works. During the past four years she has produced her own project, "The Three Bonnies," which will premiere in August.

The Phipps Dance Company is comprised of 13 St. Croix Valley area girls between the ages of 13 and 18. Two years of prior dance training was required for those who auditioned for the company, and members are required to take a minimum of two additional dance technique classes per week. The artistic directors are Stephanie Campbell and Barb Zak.


The Phipps Dance Company performs Friday, March 20, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, March 21, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. in the Black Box Theater. All tickets are $10; for reservations, contact The Phipps ticket office at (715) 386-8409 or visit