A Little Bit of Italy
Allegro Dance Company will be featured on an upcoming PBS documentary about preserving the Italian culture through dance.
Near the tip of the northern panhandle is a place where Italian dance and culture thrives. It is there that a small, but influential group of dancers dedicates its time to telling the stories of Italian tradition and custom through dance.
At any given performance, more than a dozen dancers are dressed head to toe in Italian attire—twirling about to traditional dances fused with modern style. Allegro Dance Company is a touring company from Wheeling that was established in 1994 by Italian-American Anna Pishner Harsh. As a child, Anna learned traditional Italian dances that were passed down to her from generations before. “Some of the dances were 2,000 years old, and others were 500,” she says.
As Anna went on to pursue her Bachelor of Arts degree in dance from Slippery Rock University, she found herself looking back to the dances she learned as a child. She began researching the old dances as part of her thesis on how dance and culture collide. After graduation, the West Virginia native moved back to Clarksburg and opened her own studio. Soon after, the West Virginia Italian festival asked her to perform in Clarksburg, and the rest is history. “It’s hard to imagine that what started out as a college thesis grew into something this large,” she says. Allegro is now based in Wheeling and tours every summer all over the state, as well as visiting other states along the East Coast and performing in Italy.
Now in its 19th year, this summer’s dance theme is “All Roads Lead to Rome,” and will open with men and women in red and white togas. Men will represent their power with swords while tumbling across the stage. “The performance will be aerial in a sense,” Anna says. “This performance shows how Italy is always changing, but its beauty is always the same.”
Learning and teaching the Italian culture is important to Anna. “Italians have brought so much to our culture and even settled here, especially in West Virginia, because of the coal mining,” she says. “It’s more than just learning about the past and present of Italy; it’s about knowing who you are and where you come from, what your roots are, and why you exist.”
See the dance company perform:
March 15, 2012, Ohio County Library, Wheeling
March 24, 2012, Wheeling Jesuit University
July 14, 2012, Wheeling Arts Fest, Wheeling
July 28, 2012, 7:30 p.m., Upper Ohio Valley Italian Festival, Wheeling
July 29, 2012, 1 p.m., Upper Ohio Valley Italian Festival, Wheeling
September 1, 2012, West Virginian Italian Heritage Festival, Clarksburg