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CCPA celebrates 40 years of dance, community

By Kamryn Bouyett Reporter,​ -Mar 25, 2024


The Cody Center of the Performing Arts is preparing for its 40th annual recital in May, celebrating its history of teaching dance and its goal of creating a supportive environment for students. 

“There is an idea in the dance world that most studios or groups lean heavily into competition and politics,” said former CCPA student Mary Taggart. “But the only word that comes to mind when thinking of my time at CCPA is ‘acceptance.’”

What originally started, back in the ’80s by Debbie Taggart, is turning 40 years old. Decades later, Angie McKenzie became director and owner of CCPA in 2004. Since then, the studio has continued to thrive, enriching its students not only in the history and art of dance, but also in life, McKenzie said. She got involved with CCPA when she auditioned in a ballet class and then started teaching at the studio. McKenzie has worked at CCPA for 23 years, and this year will be her 20th anniversary owning the studio.

“It’s really fun to see kids outside of dance in those other programs and how they’re intertwined,” she said. “It’s neat to be together with strong and independent people that support each other.”

For the last 40 years, CCPA has gone from teaching 120 students to about 350 in dance, theater and gymnastics. It recently added programs like theater and gymnastics along with its original ballet classes. 

“[Its] approach gives students a foundation of trust and love above anything else during their most formative and impressionable years, giving them the space to discover a true passion for dance and life,” Taggart said.

Generations have attended CCPA as former students working professionally in the art world bring their children to the studio. Former student Trevor Cook had some of the greatest memories of his life created during his 13 years at CCPA.

“Cody is exceptionally lucky to have a dance studio that has not only taught kids to move, but raised, nurtured and formed the kids of Cody into kind and compassionate, whole people for the last 40 years,” Cook said. CCPA nurtured his love for dance by giving him the opportunity to choreograph, he said. With encouragement and love, the studio has ignited his light for the arts, which is different from the treatment he has received in the professional world.

“It is that same light that I am constantly trying to tend to as a professional dancer and choreographer in New York City,” Cook said. “It is far from easy, but learning to love dance, have fun and be the best dancer I can be while being kind to myself are all life-long lessons I have learned from CCPA.” Cook is grateful for the deep friendships that he’s made that have lasted while living in New York, he said. Even though they don’t see each other as often as before, they have a shared experience working together on dances and celebrating milestones in the studio and in life.

“There is no greater gift than that,” Cook said. 

Another former student, Mackenzie Sauers agreed with Cook’s sentiment. She has also formed life-long friendships through CCPA, which was an integral part of her life, she said. The studio gave her opportunities that allowed her to travel the world “spreading the joy of dance,” Sauers said. 

In a teal binder and a box of tapes, the studio still holds memories of CCPA’s past. Those memories are important because it would take so long to get it right, said Cindy Aune, former owner of CCPA. Soon after CCPA came into fruition, Aune purchased the studio in 1986. She has taught ballet as a tradition, and often uses the same music that hasn’t changed since the 1500s, she said. 

“It’s important for the kids to always have classical music to go with their classical steps that people have been doing for hundreds of years,” she said. “There’s the traditional side that you want to keep for the kids to have a well-rounded sense of the history of dance and a connection to the history of the art.”

Using a dual cassette machine, they would record on one side and play music on the other, to cut music for their recitals, she said. Before, they had to tape a vinyl onto a cassette and then cut it with another cassette.

“It was endless,” Aune said, “hours and hours and hours of work.” To retrieve one song, they had to go to Hastings Music in Billings to purchase a record or cassette for $20, said Laura Fambro Cook, assistant director of CCPA. Cook has worked with Aune and McKenzie and has taught hundreds of students. 

“The legend just goes,” she said. “When [Aune] first started working, she carried armfuls of vinyl records ... for me the music has been a lot of change.” The studio has progressively changed their methods of selecting, storing and editing music as time has progressed. Now in the 21st century, there are so many tools to use and songs students are interested in have also changed. Even though CCPA has had changes in the past, it continues to offer guidance and support for students inside and outside of the studio.  

“Being able to share my knowledge with students is truly fulfilling,” said former CCPA instructor Mackenzie Frey. “It is a privilege to witness their growth and progress, both as athletes and individuals.”

-Courtesy The Cody Enterprise

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