Studio Visit appears first in print, in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, Melissa Merli visits with Betty Allen, coordinator of fine arts for Urbana elementary schools and a recent ACE Award winner. In the Nov. 4 newspaper, we'll have a visit with Georgia Morgan of Urbana, who makes jewelry from polymer beads she makes herself.
Q: How long have you been with the Urbana school district?
A: About 13 years. I taught one year here, then we moved to southern Illinois for three years. And then we moved back.
Q: Your husband works for the University of Illinois School of Music, right?
A: Yes. His name is David Allen. He's the director of outreach and public engagement for the School of Music, and he runs the Illinois Summer Youth Music program. I think they had 1,100 students this summer over the three different sessions.
Q: You were a dance major at Illinois State. How did you get into dance?
A: My parents put me into dance — I think I was 2 1/2 years old, actually, and I took lessons from an older woman who used to dance in vaudeville-type shows. She taught in the basement of her home in Ashtabula, Ohio. She taught me all kinds of tricks with flexibility. I would grab my ankles and roll, or stand on two chairs and do a no-hand back bend and pick up a handkerchief with my mouth.
Q: Did you take to dance right away?
A: I think so. My mother said there was one time when I wanted to quit, but they wouldn't let me. I remember dance has always been a part of my life, even when I would wait for the school bus. I was always dancing and moving. My mom would look out the window and see me and laugh.
Q: Did you ever dance professionally?
A: I did not. I danced in our university dance company and in a little side company in the community that had different names.
Q: You also majored in P.E.
A: I did. My parents encouraged me to have some other focus than just dance. At the time at ISU, those two were umbrellaed together. Now dance is in fine arts. I went back to school when we were in southern Illinois and got my classroom certificate, not knowing where we'd end up. I wanted other options.
Q: What do you do as elementary fine arts coordinator for the school district?
A: I spend a lot of time looking for different ways to connect with the community. One of our goals in the district's strategic plan is collaboration, so I've been doing a lot with that, trying to make connections with the university and other organizations to make great art experiences happen for our students. I also deal with logistics, things like scheduling and budgets.
Q: You recently won the ACE Award for education. Do you know why you were nominated?
A: I don't know. I think a colleague of mine, Maggie Kinnamon — she also teaches drama and dance for the district — nominated me. I feel very honored. There were definitely a lot of great educators in the room at the Canopy Club during the awards ceremony. So I felt very special that evening, and I think 40 North did a fantastic job with that event. The room was filled with arts supporters.
Q: Do you do any dance outside of school?
A: I don't. I teach drama and dance during the day, and I have an after-school enrichment dance group here at Yankee Ridge Elementary School. I do a fall session and a spring session. In the fall, we've been invited by the Illinois Brass Quintet to join them in their Halloween Spooktacular concert. ... It's an incredible experience for the students to not only dance in that space but also perform with a quintet that's the caliber of the Illinois Brass Quintet. In the spring, we usually do a performance in conjunction with the Boneyard Arts Festival, at the Urbana Free Library, and we also do a nice little concert each spring here at Yankee Ridge, with the band, strings and dance.