Doors continue to swing open for the vibrant arts scene in Fairfax County — this time with a special and quite singular vision. The Metropolitan Performing Arts Alliance and the Workhouse Arts Center have joined together to bring not only a performing arts academy to the Lorton campus but also an accredited performing arts high school.
The new school, Metropolitan School of the Arts, will be the first of its kind in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.
“We are excited to open a new door in the D.C. area to the secondary school student who wishes to pursue a passion for dance, theater, music, and acting while being immersed in a college preparatory curriculum,” said Melissa Dobbs, founder and Board president of MPAA.
The new secondary school will offer an educational program of academics and performing arts development for seventh- through 12th-grade students. Enrollment is underway for the 2013-14 school year, which starts in September. The school’s academic dean is Michelle Collier, who has a Master of Education degree from George Mason University and hands-on experience within the Fairfax County Public School system.
Metropolitan School of the Arts is partnering with Laurel Springs School, an accredited, private online academic school founded in 1991. The school will offer a fully accredited high-school program with a concentration on high-caliber, college preparatory academics and a comprehensive, pre-professional performing arts education. Students will earn a high school diploma after completing the course and graduating requirements.
Beyond the secondary school, Metropolitan will offer classes at the Workhouse in a wide range of the performing arts.
“We will offer dance classes in ballet, tap, jazz, Irish dance, contemporary, modern, hip-hop, break dance, hula and more. Theater classes include traditional acting and music theater classes along with theater design and production,” said Dobbs.
There will also be a music program that offers lessons in piano, voice, guitar, violin, bass and drums. After-school programs with transportation to the Lorton facility are expected to be offered as well.
“We are very pleased and delighted to have the Metropolitan Performing Arts Alliance Arts lease the W-4 Building and convert into a dance teaching and performance venue,” said John Mason, CEO and president of the Workhouse.
“MPAA will round out the Workhouse performing arts venues. It is a tremendous plus for everyone, the Workhouse, MPAA, the students and their families as well as the audiences that will be able to see them perform,” added Mason.
Dobbs, 33, lives in Fairfax County with her husband Matthew Armstrong and their two children, Cayli and Jake, along with two miniature dachshunds, Max and Cleo. She began studying dance at an early age. She also studied at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., and then at George Mason University and other institutions. She credits Marilyn Baird, founder of the Joy of Dance in Falls Church, as one of her important mentors.
Metropolitan’s beginnings were about 13 years ago. Dobbs had been teaching at a local dance studio and decided to open her own dance studio. Starting with 50 students, the program has grown to almost 900 students being taught, including two locations in Fairfax County, Kingstowne and now the Workhouse.
Dobbs credits the growth “to our faculty, who teach at a remarkably high standard with grace, love and encouragement, to our students, who bring an eagerness to learn and the diligence to progress and the ingenuity to create, and to our families and supporters who envelop our artists with encouragement and hold us accountable to maintain excellence.”
When asked about the decision to partner with the Workhouse to open the new facility, Dobbs indicated that the Workhouse is the “ideal setting ... an environment that encourages the highest caliber of performing arts work. ... The facilities at the Workhouse provide a studious and culturally rich environment that inspires students to create. The green space gives students the opportunity to spend time with nature, which opens creative channels.”
The new Metropolitan facility includes studios opened in the newly renovated Building W-4 at the Workhouse.
“The building was transformed into a remarkable space that includes four professional dance studios, three music studios, and locker rooms for students, administrative offices and more. The space uses reclaimed barn wood, natural elements and white walls to allow for a blank canvas for colorful creativity from the students,” Dobbs said.
Dobbs has a clear vision for why the arts benefit young people. “Every human being is an artist. Human beings make up community; therefore, arts are an integral part of our community. The arts are a means to unlocking your purpose and your highest potential in this world by exploring the deepest corners of your inner self. Once you become aware of your unique purpose, you learn to embrace it and tap into ways that you can uniquely serve the world.”
“Arts education is central to understanding self and embracing diversity and teaches us to identify and fully live out our unique purpose in life,” she added.
The Metropolitan will also produce community theater at the Workhouse. First up, in August, will be an all-teen cast musical “Fame.” “Fame” is a rock-based musical about a group of students studying at New York City’s High School of Performing Arts.
Finally, one other new venture arriving at the Workhouse comes this September. There will be a new café open to the public.
“The MPAA students will bring great life and energy to the Workhouse campus,” Mason said. “MPAA will be a tremendous plus on the Workhouse campus.”