The steps are laid out - a complex series of hops and turns accompanied only by the natural rhythm of feet on floor. Then the music comes in, a funky fusion of jazz and soul, and all the pieces start to come together. The dancers, members of the Cutno Dance Center for Dance Education Performance Ensemble, begin to move as one.
Smiles spread across faces as the music ends and hands wipe stray hair and beads of sweat from brows. But there is no time for self-congratulation. Soon there are new steps to memorize, new tempos to become familiar with.
At Cutno, it's always about moving forward.
The 200-student Cutno Dance Center began life as the Augusta Dance and Music Center in 1995. Since then, the name, location and number of students have dramatically changed.
"I never thought it would grow the way it has," said Ferneasa Cutno, the driving force behind the center. "And I know it's not done yet. We've had to move three times, always because we needed more space."
Ms. Cutno incorporates lectures, research and guest artists into the dance curriculum. She said few of her students will ever become professional dancers, but all of them should leave Cutno as well-rounded members of their community.
"Success is just getting them to walk through the door," Ms. Cutno said. "Maybe five percent of the students that come to Cutno, or anywhere for that matter, are going to become professional dancers. So our training is also to make people good audience members, to become supportive of the arts."
Ms. Cutno pauses for a moment, listening to the quiet rumble of dancers moving across the floor in the next room. The sounds filtering from the studio are not the quiet tip-toe of ballet, but the raucous stomps and slides of a modern dance amalgamation of African, jazz and ballet - a style unique to the Cutno Dance Center.
"I come from New Orleans, where there is this gumbo of influences - Spanish, Caribbean - all mixed together," Ms. Cutno explained. "America is a melting pot, so why can't dance be a melting pot? The style wasn't really a conscious decision, it was just something that was in me."
Recently, the Cutno Center took up residence in a former furniture warehouse downtown. Ms. Cutno said that relocating downtown was part of a grand plan.
Cutno student Samantha Bass, 14, practices dance moves.
ANNETTE M. DROWLETTE/STAFF|
"The big picture I have painted is to keep the school, but also to have Augusta's first professional modern dance company. There are many, many talented students who have to leave the area to dance professionally. I'd like our students, when they graduate from college, not to have to beat the pavement and live in a box in New York. I want them to be able to come home."
Relocating downtown, Ms. Cutno explained, is an important part of making that happen.
"Downtown is having a revitalization," she said. "Downtown is where the arts happen. It's where the facilities are. It was important to me to have a presence here, as an African-American woman."
"This just feels like the place to be."
ON YOUR TOES
WHAT: Cutno Dance Center for Dance Education
OWNER: Ferneasa Cutno
WHERE: 210 11th St.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.