Tucked away in the Heber Valley, the Utah Arts Collective has gathered top-notch teachers and talent. They work together, providing the community with incredible options for artistic and academic growth. What once began as Wasatch Dance Center has now become Utah Arts Collective. It includes dance, preschool, theater, and more. This elaborate and unique program began in 1998 when two dance teachers simply decided to form their own studio.
Vibeke Bodensteiner was living in Norway and had extensive background and training in the Vaganova method, a Russian ballet technique and training system. She met her husband, an Olympic skier on the US ski team, at the Lillehammer Olympics. They married, and Vibeke moved to Utah.
Ciara Steele grew up dancing in Utah County. She attended UVSC (now UVU) and BYU. She was offered a job in Heber and began commuting up the mountain in between classes. When her teaching contract was over, she decided to stay. “I just felt like there was some reason I was supposed to be in the Heber Valley,” she remembers.
Ciara and Vibeke met teaching dance in Heber. The pair realized they had similar ideas and educational philosophies, and the studio was born. Vibeke taught ballet classes, and Ciara taught almost everything else. From that small beginning, the company grew. It has now been an important part of the Heber community for the past 26 years. In 2022, Ciara took over the program and rebranded as Utah Arts Collective.
Dancing Through Life
It all started with dance. And the current dance program has so much to offer!
From 18 months to four years old, children can take a Jungle Gym class, focusing on movement, with tumbling, singing, colors, and other readiness activities. Traditional dance classes and competition programs are offered to students ages 5-18. Dancers with the most experience can audition for an ensemble or company program. UAC also offers adult Hip-Hop and tap lessons and is looking forward to offering adult fitness courses as well.
Another fun program is the Adaptive Dance group. This experience is offered free to students in both Wasatch and Summit counties. “The program pairs a student with disabilities with a movement mentor and allows them to experience dance without boundaries. Adaptive Dance is a program we are proud to have at UAC,” explains Ciara.
The dance programs are all extremely focused. Specific methods are taught in ballet, jazz, tap, Hip-Hop, and tumbling. “We’ve written curriculums for all of those levels, and they’re all very unique,” Ciara shared. All of the Hip-Hop teachers dance professionally and have studied both background and technique. The UAC is especially proud of its ballet program. “We teach a Vaganova-based ballet curriculum, which is the Russian style of ballet that came from Vebeka,” Ciara explains. “She grew up in Norway and got her degree in that methodology, and so she brought that here. Most dance studios, especially in Utah, teach the Italian system, Cecchetti, so that’s unique.” The group even does excerpts of full-length ballets in the recitals. Many of the current teachers grew up as students and then spent time apprenticing to teach the strict Vaganova curriculum.
For 20 years, the UAC has been performing at the Eccles Center in Park City in a show run by professional technicians. In addition, another type of performance is held at Wasatch High School. “We do this competition showcase, and we take all of our programs and put them out on stage. It’s an awesome show,” says Ciara. “It’s just an hour and a half of amazing dancing at all different ages and all different levels.” Even the preschool does a fun dance number.
The Nutcracker Tea Miracle
The Utah Arts Collective has an extensive program of giving back to the community, known as The Nutcracker Tea. Since their first performance, all the proceeds have been donated to the Wasatch County Children’s Justice Center. “We’ve been doing a full-length version of The Nutcracker for about 15 years, and then, in 2018, we created the WDC (now the UAC) Foundation,” explains Ciara.
It began with small donations and a small Nutcracker Tea. But when Covid hit, things changed. They needed a bigger space to allow different families and households to purchase an entire table at the show. Zermatt donated space in the Bernese Center, and the group spread everything out. An amazing thing happened. There was so much support that the foundation donated $20,000 in 2020!
The Nutcracker Tea has only grown from there. Although tickets are open to everyone, they are extremely difficult to come by and sell out almost immediately. Utah Arts Collective put together 11 tea parties last year to meet the demand, and they’re doing 12 this year! Midway Town Hall has been donating space for the performances recently. The food is all donated by local companies such as OG Café and Midway Bakery. The staff is made up of parent volunteers. The performances consist of a 30-minute narrated version of the Nutcracker. “When the mice scurry in the battle scene, your mouse cupcake is delivered to your table. It’s just a magical experience,” Ciara states. “This year we donated $35,000!”
When Utah Arts Collective moved to its current building, about four years after beginning the studio, they added a preschool. “A lot of times, it was hard to pay all of the bills, and we rented to a preschool company that used our space. I think everyone thought it was ours,” explains Ciara. Eventually, they bought the preschool. Ciara and Vibeke both have degrees in education, so it was a natural development. They brought in early childhood educators and built a curriculum. “We thought, ‘If they think it’s ours, it might as well be ours. We might as well create what we view as an academic performing arts preschool that we’re proud of,” says Ciara.
Many of the preschool teachers have education-based degrees, and others have degrees that are science-based or English-based. “We’re really open to creating this fantastic group of people who have lots of different perspectives to share with the students,” Ciara mentions. One teacher has a degree in horticulture, so the UAC created a garden. Students can plant seeds and watch them grow. They can even come back through the summer to see the results.
The dance-based center accommodates the preschool fabulously. “We have curtains that hang over the mirrors because sometimes they can distract from what they’re doing. Every once in a while, we will have the mirrors out if it makes sense in the lesson that day.” Ciara explains.
The Utah Arts Collective offers preschool for ages two, three, and four with lots of fun and movement. Older classes include a reading specialist. There’s even a dual immersion program, which Ciara calls “more of an introduction to Spanish.” The school has a native Spanish educator and makes it fun, with lots of Spanish music. In the summer, there are preschool day camps.
Math, science, and creative artist programs can be added to the traditional preschool. And children who sign up for a morning and afternoon program are invited to Lunch Bunch, which is used as a bridge between them.
One of the most unique features of the preschool is the drive-by drop-off and pick-up. “For our three and four-year-olds, parents can pull up on the north side of our building while wearing their pajamas, and drop them off and then pick them up at the end of the day. They don’t have to get out,” Ciara explains. “Especially for parents that have younger children, where they’d have to get everyone out of the car, it’s a convenient perk.”
Let’s Add Some Drama!
In addition to dance and preschool, Utah Arts Collective started a youth theater program. The first half of the season consists of education and training. This includes vocal, dance, acting, stage makeup, and theater etiquette. Then, for the second half of the season, the center auditions for a junior musical, and there is training and rehearsal. This program is for ages 8 through 15. In 2023, they performed Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Wasatch West Campus Theater. In the past, they’ve done shows such as Little Mermaid, Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast.
A theater camp is held in August and offered as an invitation into the program. “They don’t have to be the best vocalist,” says Ciara, “They just have to have a desire and a passion and be ready to learn more.”
Working along with her husband, who, according to Ciara, is “very supportive and is involved in all of it,” Ciara has seen amazing growth over the years in the students of the Utah Arts Collective. “It’s been really fun to see students of ours grow up, and now they’re bringing their children. That makes me feel old, but there’s a lot of pride in that—that they brought them back to us.”
She explains, “Our biggest goal is to be training and educating young people so they have the skills to accomplish their dreams or build the confidence they need. The whole idea of the Collective was to bring together amazing educators and kids that have a passion for dance, theater, or education and bring them all together under one roof.” This unique Heber Valley program is doing just that.