“When I came here and there was no dance going on … I was like, ‘We gotta dance!’” said Alyssa Kleissler, recalling her first months in Cordova.
That was August 1996. By February 1997, her dance company Current Rhythms was born.
Twenty-two years later, Kleissler and her sister Marita Kleissler run Current Rhythms, offering classes for people of all ages and skill levels. Classes include tap, ballet, point, lyrical, hip hop, acrobatics, yoga, and social dances, such as swing and waltz. There are also classes for parents, toddlers and children.
Three years ago, the company also created North Star Dance Co., consisting of eight passionate dancers. Kleissler works with Cordova Junior/Senior High School so dancers are able to receive their physical education credit through the dance company.
Some of that troupe even assists with the younger dance classes, as part of their yearly community service requirement.
North Star Dance Co.’s first performance of the year, “Muskeg”, will kickstart Cordova Fungus Festival at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31 at the North Star Theatre in the Cordova Center.
“I think it adds a lot to the overall festival,” said Cathy Renfeldt, executive director of Cordova Alaska Chamber of Commerce. “It adds just a whole other dimension … we’re always trying to blend science and art together in these events.”
North Star Dance Co. has previously performed for the Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival.
The chamber asked shorebird festival attendees to rate the events and the shorebird dance was ranked among the highest, Renfeldt said.
Renfeldt’s daughter has takes basic toddler dance classes with Current Rhythms.
“We’re also very lucky to have them around for our kids and as entertainment for the community,” she said.
Current Rhythms began in the Mt. Eccles Elementary School cafeteria, with tap classes held on the concrete basement floor. A few years later, Kleissler moved her classes to the Bidarki Recreation Center.
Classes continued to grow, accommodating different skill levels and ages. In 2001, she made a dance studio in the basement of her home, where the company currently operates.
“Across these years, we have seen bad fishing seasons,” Kleissler said. “I’m always surprised year after year, even in bad seasons, they invest in this program for their kids.”
Marita moved from Connecticut to Cordova six years ago to help Kleissler run the business. Kleissler says that Current Rhythms now has “double energy force of minds.”
“Would Current Rhythms be where it is had my sister not moved here six years ago?” she asked, knowing the answer to be “no.” “She’s dynamite.”
Alyssa Kleissler, who is also Current Rhythms’ artistic director and teacher, teaches Spanish at the high school when she’s not running the dance company.
Memories and projects of more than two decades that stand out in her mind include collaborative projects with Cordova’s U.S. Forest Service and the chamber and her first student learning point; now, she’s teaching four dancers point.
“She continued it throughout high school and then she put on her own show at … graduation time,” Kleissler said of student Rachel Erbey. “All the proceeds she put towards a dance scholarship. So, proud moment for a teacher there.”
Two years ago, Kleissler created the Wetland Ballet, which featured dancers and live music, casting more than 100 people. Word of the ballet spread outside of Cordova, reaching news outlets in Anchorage, Valdez and Oregon.
She notes this as the highlight of her career.
“That was pretty darn exciting,” she said.
She also created an Intertidal Ballet, in collaboration with the shorebird festival and the forest service, and it was performed again for the studio’s 10-year anniversary in 2007, recalling how the audience was emotionally moved.
“We’re such a tight community,” Kleissler said. “Not only do you see the art in front of you, but you also know the performers behind …”
Scholarships are available and fundraising events take place to ensure that dance classes are accessible for everyone in the community.
“(The parents) are so happy they have this place to come to where (the children’s) spirits are lifted,” Kleissler said.