Growing up in a large family in Harrison County, Anna Pishner Harsh learned a lot about her Italian heritage. She started the Allegro Dance Company in Clarksburg 15 years ago to help carry on Italian traditions, especially dancing. But Harsh puts a new twist on technique. She combines traditional dance with modern movement, theatrical presentation and vocal performance.
The Allegro Dance Company, now based in Wheeling, uses a combination of dance techniques - everything from ball room dancing and tap to hip hop. The performers tell stories through movement, dance and music. Founder
"We do something that is quite different from most folk dance companies. We do our traditional tarantellas and polkas and jigs but we might combine something with a traditional movement that makes it more modern up to date," Harsh says.
A performance that illustrates this new technique is called "Mysteryoso" or mysterious. The dancers wear lime green costumes and use bright red and orange scarves to express their emotions as they dance.
music of performing to song
Harsh grew up in Clarksburg in a large Italian family where dancing was a tradition. Five years ago she married her husband and moved her company to the Wheeling area. The idea came from her passion to carry on her family’s heritage. Allegro is the Italian word for fast tempo.
"It’s part of our tradition and heritage if there is a gathering or dinner you pick up steps that you know for your entire life, but this actually started with my thesis at Slippery Rock University," she says. "I came home, auditioned dancers, performed in festivals and it has bloomed since then."
The Allegro Company's 12 dancers have performed at festivals, schools and cultural events in several states and in Italy, but not all of the dancers are Italian. Most of them are high school and college students interested in performing arts, like 21 year-old Tiffany Lee of Wheeling. She is a theater major at West Liberty State College.
"When we are doing things with the Italian folk dancing and modern and she throws in classical ballet and tap," Lee says. "It does make you want to go home and ask your parents and learn about things that are in your culture that you don’t know and you realize how important technique is for every style of dance."
Dancers Anita Santilli and Devon Cottle attend Wheeling Park High School. They say expressing their emotions through dancing is helping them with their self esteem.
"For me just being on stage is away to escape and explore my ownself," Santilli says.
Cottle continues, "For me it gives me a lot of confidence it is neat to have this thing that I can that not everyone can do it."
Anna Pishner Harsh credits her company's wide repertoire for their popularity. She says they don't just appeal to folklorist and those interested in Italian traditions. It's more like they package Italian traditions for a mass audience.
"Our goal is to bring the Italian culture to the next generation in a different way so we introduce music like top 40 and how it can be tied to our roots," Harsh says.