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Dancing Dreams

Tye Chua founders, from left: Gene Chua, Angi Polderman and Aimee Tye. Photo by Taylor Gloystein.
Tye Chua attracting ‘different thinkers’ to dance

Unlike his studio partners Aimee Tye and Angi Polderman, who were both classically trained in ballet beginning in their youth, Eugene Chua was not interested in dance as a child.

His first exposure to it was seeing a Russian ballet during a family trip to Lincoln Center, in New York City, when he was a boy. “I fell asleep,” he says.

Now he is a co-owner of Tye Chua Dance, a ballet studio in downtown Kalamazoo.

Growing up, Chua was interested in sports, especially tennis. As a young man, his educational focus was plasma physics, a subject in which he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Everything pointed in a direction other than dance.

“In sports, though, when I was young, at some point I noticed that everyone was getting taller than me,” Chua says. “Someone in my fraternity at MIT (Massachussetts Institute of Technology), in Boston, suggested I try dance instead.”

At 19, Chua signed up for a modern dance class and found he enjoyed it. The second dance class he took was ballet, but it was a discouraging experience. “I was terrible, but I could out jump anyone,” recalls Chua.

His instructor, David Shields, a former soloist with Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet, encouraged him to take another class, and something clicked. Chua’s dance skills improved, and he excelled. Chua was accepted into the Boston Ballet and the Connecticut Ballet, and later the Omaha Ballet as a principal dancer. He also taught master classes and workshops nationwide and overseas.

Unlike her business partner, Aimee Tye loved dance from early childhood days

“My sister and I would wear matching underwear sets and put on performances in the living room as kids,” Tye says. “She is now a choreographer, while I fell in and out of love with dance. It is something that requires a lot of practice, and there were times that I felt like I was missing out on a normal life because I had to practice.”

But Tye decided the sacrifices were worthwhile, and she began her formal training with the Kalamazoo Ballet and continued with Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet. She also danced with the Detroit Metropolitan Dance Theatre. For 19 years, she was associate director and faculty member at the Hyde Park School of Dance, in Chicago, before returning to Kalamazoo

Angi Polderman, who grew up in Mattawan, began training in ballet at age 11 at the Bullard School, in Kalamazoo, then danced with the affiliated Kalamazoo Ballet, where she became a principal dancer. She continued her training at the University of Michigan, but then moved to Maine, where she danced with the Portland Ballet. In Maine, she also taught dance to young skiers and snowboarders at the Carrabassett Valley Academy.

“Yes, athletes should learn how to dance,” Polderman says. “… You don’t have to dance so that your leg is up by your ear, just learn how to maintain balance and flexibility.”

Next, Polderman danced with the Miami City Ballet, but she finally came full circle, returning to Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo Ballet

Becoming Tye Chua Dance

Polderman was dancing and teaching with the Kalamazoo Ballet when Tye and Chua returned to Kalamazoo to be closer to family. Therese Bullard was then the longtime owner and director of the Kalamazoo Ballet and Bullard School. Tye and Chua worked with Bullard to take over ownership of the Bullard School in 2017 and renamed it Tye Chua Dance. The two co-owners and Polderman now serve as artistic directors of the studio.

The studio’s location — on the fourth floor of the Kalamazoo Nonprofit Advocacy Coalition building (First Baptist Church), 315 W. Michigan Ave., in rooms with stained glass windows and hardwood floors — is distinctive, but its philosophy of dance is what makes it unique.

Dancers are accepted from ages 3 to 80, whenever someone feels moved to learn ballet, the trio says. Scholarships are based on financial need, artistic ability, student commitment and availability. And the qualities of kindness, inclusion, discipline and leadership are required.

“Our students include school-aged dancers, adult recreational dancers, retired professional dancers who live in the area, current professionals from the area who take class while in town, students from the universities, other local dance instructors and professors of dance from the universities,” Polderman says. “We’ve even had touring Broadway performers take class while in town. As you can imagine, these students range from the purely recreational dancer to the professional level.”

No rankings here

The Tye Chua philosophy also eliminates ranking, something that many ballet studios do, ranking dancers at different levels of achievement, from corps to principal. What can be a competitive environment for dancers is replaced with an “atmosphere of a supportive community,” says Tye.

“We attract different thinkers to dance, since we are very welcoming,” she says. “For instance, dancers with ADHD do very well here. We see a lot of progress, increased attention spans. We even have emotional-support animals here.”

“This is a place where you can think only about yourself, your own body and emotions in time and space,” Polderman adds.

In addition to ballet, Tye Chua Dance offers small classes of 8 to 10 students in modern and contemporary dance, character and national dance and jazz, with French and Italian ballet terminology. There are currently about 100 students enrolled. The studio has six faculty members.

Students also learn anatomy to prepare them for pointe work. When a dancer is en pointe, they must support all of their weight on fully extended feet — which requires special ballet shoes constructed from layers of fabric and glue, with a leather block under the toes.

“Dancing en pointe is almost like walking on stilts,” Chua says. “If you’ve never danced en pointe, it can be very difficult. If you do it too early, you can build the wrong muscles. We have had to retrain older dancers on how to do it correctly or it sets you back.”

“It’s a big step for dancers,” Polderman says, “Kids are eager to do it and then instantly regretful when they try.”

“It can be risky if you are not properly prepared,” Tye says. “We don’t want children doing it while their bones are growing, and we’ve never had any injuries here.”

Four shows a year

Tye Chua dancers present four shows each year, beginning in February, when they perform a choreography showcase featuring their own works as well as pieces by faculty and guest artists.

In the spring, dancers perform a story ballet. The studio’s upcoming show, Wild Things, is based on the book, Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak, and will take place May 4 and 5 (see The Arts) .

In August, dancers perform in a show called Summerdance, and in December there’s an annual presentation of The Nutcracker.

All shows take place at the Kalamazoo Nonprofit Advocacy Coalition building.

To learn more, visit tyechuadance.com.

Zinta Aistars

Zinta is the creative director of Z Word, LLC, a writing and editing service. She is the host of the weekly radio show, Art Beat, on WMUK, and the author of three published books in Latvian — a poetry collection, a story collection and a children’s book. Zinta lives on a small farm in Hopkins, where she raises chickens and organic vegetables, and wanders the woods between writing assignments.

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