By Frances Nevill
Motion Dance Theatre’s Executive Director Dianne Kepley knows a thing or two about what it takes to develop a dancer. But more important, she knows what it takes to nurture a passion. She raised her son, dancer and choreographer Nick Kepley, in Henderson County and worked tirelessly throughout his youth to shuttle him to and from dance lessons and grueling auditions ultimately helping him achieve his dream of becoming a professional dancer.
Dianne recalls her son’s love of dance being evident from an early age.
“From the time he was two, dance was what he was wanting to do and was always asking for dance classes. I knew nothing about the art form. I took him to classes and at the age of 5, he ended up being the youngest member of The Nutcracker at the Fletcher School of Dance.”
Nick’s interest in dance never wavered and neither did Dianne’s dedication.
“I knew that for Nick to really understand what it takes to make it professionally as a dancer, he needed to work hard and see the competition at the highest level,” Dianne says.
That meant not only making sure he worked with excellent teachers, but also educating herself to the world of dance and all that dancers need and require to grow artistically and professionally. How did she do it? She drew upon her past experiences to help Nick pave his artistic path.
Growing up in rural Fruitland, Dianne had her own artistic passion.
She was interested in music. She attended Edneyville High School and was later accepted to Shenandoah Conservatory of Music as a vocal first soprano. From there, she was accepted into a European traveling choir where she got to experience the arts abroad.
“It was quite a shock initially,” Dianne recalls. “Coming from rural Henderson County, other than the Flat Rock Playhouse, I did not have a lot of opportunity to experience the arts. There just wasn’t a whole lot back then. I had an excellent music teacher though, who lived at the top of Huckleberry Mountain. She was very encouraging of me. And I think that taught me a lot about how important good training is to succeed.”
After her European experience, Dianne went on to Eastern Carolina University, initially as a music major, but changed her course of studies to English.
“I truly felt I did not have the classical training needed to seriously pursue music, so I decided to study both English Education and Computer Science. At that time in my life, it was the more practical course of study. I continued to sing at friends’ weddings and events. I became more of an arts patron and I supported all sorts of art. The one art I hadn’t been exposed too, interestingly enough, is the one my son chose—ballet.”
And so with life experience in tow, Dianne maintained her focus on understanding ballet and ensuring Nick’s training was the best. And she did it alone as a single parent.
“My mom made huge sacrifices for me,” recalls Nick, “ I can remember so many times her driving me to auditions that were far away like Atlanta or Winston-Salem. She is a huge part of my success as a dancer.”
As a high school student, Nick was accepted to summer programs at Queens College and a summer program in New York. He was also accepted into North Carolina School of the Arts.
“Nick really wanted to stay in public school in Henderson County,” says Dianne. “It was a great honor to be accepted to North Carolina School of the Arts, but Nick was adamant about staying here and being supportive of the local arts. I was very proud of him for that decision.”
It was about that time that a friend of Nick’s was also accepted into a dance program but couldn’t go due to finances. This troubled Nick and he looked for ways that he could help. Nick launched DanceFest, a dance performance that brought together many of Nick’s fellow dancers and friends, that would serve as a benefit for local performers.
“DanceFest was a day and night undertaking,” Dianne recalls. “For three years DanceFest raised money for the Henderson County Arts Council so that local students could pursue summer performing arts programs.”
After graduating from high school, Nick was accepted into many prestigious dance programs including Julliard and the School of American Ballet. His dancing career grew to include positions with Ballet Austin and the Kansas City Ballet. Most recently, Nick has been performing on Broadway in the musical Mary Poppins.
“I’ve seen it 52 times over the course of three years,” Dianne says proudly.
With the realization of many dreams accomplished, Dianne and Nick now work together on their shared vision — Motion Dance Theatre.
“As a native to this area, I really wanted to bring home the best of dance,” says Nick, “I love Asheville and I want others in the community to experience what contemporary ballet can bring to their lives. Motion strives to strip away the mystery that often surrounds ballet and to let the audience see and hear how the dances are created.”
Now in its fourth summer, Motion Dance Theatre brings together a select group of choreographers and dancers from all over the country for a three-week residency and choreographic dance lab. Choreographers work on new artistic pieces.
“The residency gives the choreographers a blank canvas,” says Nick, “They come to Asheville, which is such a beautiful and inspiring place, and they have the freedom to produce original work with some of the best dancers in the country.”
The residency concludes with a public performance at the Diana Wortham Theatre. This year’s dates are July 12 and 13.
To ensure the success of the company, Nick appointed the person he knows will do what it takes to make any artistic venture a reality — his mom.
“She is integral to Motion,” says Nick, “My mom was born and raised in Western North Carolina, she helped shape my career, and she shares my desire to give back to this community that we both love. She is an amazing person.”
As Motion’s Executive Director, Dianne manages the day-to-day needs of Motion and works to grow the company. Future plans include touring throughout North Carolina while also expanding its mission to become an Asheville-based, year-round professional contemporary ballet company.
“The arts bring so much to the human spirit,” says Dianne, “I want for young dancers from all over rural North Carolina to be able to see professional dance right here in their own backyard. Asheville is one of the most artistic places in the world and we already have world-class artists in so many genres, but I see the potential for more growth for professional dance and I am enthusiastic about what the future holds for the dance community here in the mountains. I have made a living in the corporate world, which I have enjoyed throughout the years, but I have made my life through the arts.”
To learn more about Motion Dance Theatre or find ways you can contribute visit: Motiondt.com
Tickets for Motion’s July performances can be purchased at The Diana Wortham Theatre box office.
Frances Nevill is a freelance writer who writes about the people and places that make the southeast unique. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.