Local dance students are banding together to remember Jaime Guttenberg, a 14-year-old dancer who was one of 17 killed on Valentine’s Day in the Parkland, Florida school shooting.
Studio A Dance Conservatory students will wear orange ribbons, Guttenberg’s favorite color, as they practice and during contest and stage performances this year. Thursday afternoon, the intermediate Ballet Level Five class practiced at the ballet bar, with each student wearing an orange ribbon.
“We have been wearing them all week, a lot of them have been in multiple classes,” Anna Crumley Nelson, the studio’s owner and founder, said of her students.
She added that even the smallest dancers at the studio are wearing the ribbons.
Nelson noted that “Orange Ribbons for Jaime” sprang up across the globe after Guttenberg’s private dance teacher, Michelle McGrath Gerlick, wrote about her on a dance studio blog.
“I follow a dance teacher network blog,” Nelson said. “It’s dance teachers all over the world, and we all kind of blog and chat together on things that work in your dance studio … it’s a nice network of friends to have. I follow that site and Jaime’s dance teacher actually posted on the site and said ‘this is what we’re doing, this is how we want to make awareness. To honor her and her legacy we’re going to be wearing orange ribbons the rest of the year …’ From there it just took off.”
Nelson added that dance teachers, dance organizations, the “Ballet Grand Prix” which is worldwide, plus professional dancers on Broadway began wearing orange ribbons in honor of Guttenberg.
“We are going to wear them at our show this year for her,” Nelson said. “They can wear them for the rest of the year in class or at any performance that we have. Some of them have clipped them into their shoes or on their dance bags so they can remember to bring them.”
Nelson said her students understand the importance of the orange ribbons although she tried to lighten the significance with the youngest dancers.
“I just said this is a young lady who loved to dance and we are just honoring her legacy and her life,” she said. “We’re wearing orange because it was her favorite color and it’s a ribbon for her. So, we can dance for her today.”
She said the older students realize how Guttenberg died and are dealing with the tragedy in their own way. During Thursday’s practice, as the music played and the young students danced, Nelson noted that the room was filled with a feeling of connection so strong that tears came to a few eyes.
“Yesterday when they were all (dancing), I said it’s almost like we all have a costume on,” she added. “We are all connected as one, because of these little ribbons, you know. It’s a real powerful statement and movement for all of them to be a part of.”
Guttenberg was a private dance student who trained at McGrath Gerlick’s Dance Theatre at Coconut Creek, Florida. She would have competed this weekend with her dance class.
“She was beautiful … she was just fabulous,” Nelson said of Guttenberg’s dancing. “Just so young, 14, you know.”
Nelson noted that just as dance teacher McGrath Gerlick was close to Guttenberg, she herself looks at her students as her children. If one of them were harmed Nelson said she would be devastated.
“I know how involved I am in all their lives, my kids and my students,” Nelson said. “The teacher said this was like one of my own children. That’s what it feels like to her. I spend a lot of time with these kiddos …
“It was something she (Guttenberg) was very passionate about and loved, so you know she was training a lot,” she added. “You become very close with whoever your coach is, you have a bond. That would be devastating, completely devastating. I cannot even imagine it.”
Nelson added she and her students will continue to help spread awareness and will honor Jaime Guttenberg in every way possible this year as they practice, dance and perform.