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A symbiotic move


Classes are jam-packed at the Patel Conservatory.

Four youth orchestras, 13 rock bands, nearly 300 ballerinas and scores of musical theater students.

"Dabblers to talented professionals," said Wendy Leigh, vice president of education at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, which oversees the conservatory.

But across the Hillsborough River, a state-of-the-art dance studio sits mostly empty at Tampa Preparatory, a school that prides itself on producing well-rounded graduates. Participation in the dance program shifted to after school when students chose rigorous courses to improve their college options. No one was using the studio during the day.

The wasted space bothered Kevin Plummer, head of Tampa Prep.

"We wanted to bring dance back into the school day," he said.

Steven Mezer, a board member for both organizations, saw the empty studio at Tampa Prep and the overflowing classes at Patel. He and several other board members set up a meeting to see what could be done.

When administrators from both sites got together in December, a word kept coming up: synergy.

"Next thing you know, we were dreaming and scheming and there was nothing stopping us," Leigh said.

The partnership they formed has resulted in an extended campus called the Patel Conservatory at Tampa Preparatory, slated to open Aug. 30.

The conservatory has 38 mission-based programs throughout the county with schools and other organizations, such as Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay and Metropolitan Ministries. But the agreement with Tampa Prep is unique, Leigh said, because it's an actual business partnership that joins facilities and services.

So this fall, Patel classes will spill over the river to the school.

During school days, Patel instructors will teach four dance classes each week to Tampa Prep students in a schedule that doesn't conflict with core studies. Classes at Tampa Prep will be open to the community during evenings and weekends.

They'll start with dance — jazz, hip-hop, tap, ballet, contemporary and modern. Where the partnership goes from there is up to administrators' imaginations.

"We are exploring the possibilities," Plummer said. He envisions a production with students from every high school in the county.

Starting soon, Tampa Prep students will create artwork to decorate the walls of the conservatory, which doesn't teach visual art.

Patel offers more than 100 dance, theater and music classes for students all over the bay area. Currently, ages range from 2 to 81.

"Patel is really overflowing," Leigh said of the three-story, 45,000-square-foot building. "The challenge really is prime times after school and weekday evenings. We only have so many rooms."

But space won't limit growth, Leigh says. The conservatory soon plans to add a new youth chorus and singing group.

Tampa Prep students will also get to participate in outreach programs, workshops and master classes at Patel. Such experiences will help round out the school's curriculum with its mission of "preparation for life with a higher purpose than self."

"It's a win-win," Plummer said. "We've got an amazing dance facility. We're happy to open our doors."

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at or (813) 226-3431.

So you think you can dance?

Dance classes for the community start Aug. 30 at the Patel Conservatory at Tampa Preparatory, 727 W Cass St., and include jazz, hip-hop, tap, ballet, contemporary and modern for children to adults. Classes start as early as 4:15 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and go from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. To register, visit and click on "classes" or call (813) 222-1040.

A symbiotic move 08/19/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 19, 2010 4:32am]
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