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Kitty Clark: Advocate for the arts

By Staff | Jul 24, 2009

Kitty Clark and her daughter Valerie

Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up? Sure you do.

It’s my belief that we never forget that one. You were going to be a rock star. You were going to be a princess, a fireman or play professional basketball, be a doctor, a scientist, a teacher, an artist, a secret agent, a race car driver, a pop singer, a famous ballerina, design clothes, or you were going to fly anything, everything, or like Superman. As a child your mind’s-eye view of life’s choice is limitless.

Yes, we know what we want to do when we’re children and then we grow up and things change. But we never forget and when we meet someone who didn’t let go of that dream it’s with awe and admiration. Kitty Clark is such a someone. “When I was in the fourth grade, my mom enrolled me in private dance lessons with Nicole Roche. I was a Tomboy so I didn’t tell my friends I was taking dance lessons, but I loved it. Modern dance became my first love.”

Kitty Cammier Clark grew up in an 1872 Victorian house on six green acres in Westchester County, N.Y. Jane and Barrett Clark had four children and Kitty was their third. “I was named after Kitty Douglas, my Dad’s mentor,” she said. Barrett was a voiceover artist and an actor. “Kitty’s daughter, Mary, was my de-facto Godmother ‘Baba,’ and I adored her.”

After Kitty graduated with honors from Ossining High School, where she spent most of her time dancing and reporting the news and acting in soaps on the OHS radio, she entered Vassar College. There she majored in history. “I didn’t think dancing would be my life’s work because I thought the big companies like Alvin Ailey and Martha Graham were the only options open to dancers.”

Upon graduation and unsure of her future, Kitty then did what any creative and adventurous young woman who loved history and the arts would do – she moved to London and went to work for the Victorian Albert Museum.

“I had friends there and thought it would be fun to work in museums where the history goes back thousands of years. So I wrote a letter to the Victorian Albert because it was ‘funky.’ She wrote “I’m coming to London and I want to work for you.” Impressed with her research skills, Vassar degree and her letter, Kitty received word within a week that she had a job in the museum’s “very cool” library.

She lived in London for a year and then came home and settled in Washington, D.C., working for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It was there she discovered smaller pick-up dance companies. She studied at Joy of Motion on DuPont Circle and over the next few years worked to feed her dance habit. She took a month off and entered a Bates Dance Festival workshop in Maine, and then it was two weeks of vacation time at Jacobs Pillow in the Berkshires where she worked along side the Paul Taylor Dancers. She took the following summer off to dance in New York. Then it was back to D.C. to work in commercial real estate, back to the National Trust to the planned giving department, and to the Stanley Foundation as a grants administrator. She trained and taught at The Dance Place, Maryland Youth Ballet, and anywhere that needed a dance teacher. “All the while I worked goofy jobs to pay the rent.”

There were small companies – Quienscence, Carla Perdo, Lou Antonini – but Kitty knew if she was going to be taken seriously as a teacher she needed that education credential. She applied to Smith College, in North Hampton, Mass., on a whim and went for an interview unannounced and was offered a teaching fellowship on the spot.

“Everyone at Smith was inspiring, the resources were amazing. I got to teach undergrads, attend class and choreograph performances. I loved school.” Kitty calls North Hampton “cool” but knew it wasn’t where she wanted to live. She got her master’s and went back to D.C. Then, while visiting her grandmother in Sharpsburg, Md., she met Ed Herendeen and wound up dancing in a CATF presentation in Shepherdstown. Soon she and her brother Chris decided to drive across country and while Chris stayed in Flagstaff, Kitty went on to San Francisco and then Seattle where she house sat and took classes everywhere. During this month-long adventure Kitty’s sister Molly told her of a job with the Ice Theatre of New York, at Chelsea Piers, managing, and fundraising. She was at Ice Theatre when it happened. “Wendy Hyman, my roommate at Smith called me one day and said ‘What are you doing here?’ She called me on what I was doing with my life.”

“She was right. I knew I didn’t want NYC for the rest of my life. I knew what I needed to do.” In 1999 – because her Grandmother lived across the river, she already knew some people in town, it was beautiful and affordable and a Mecca for arts lovers – Kitty Clark moved to Shepherdstown.

As she had all her life, Kitty seized the moment and jumped in finding research jobs, dance opportunities and teaching jobs to support her love of the dance. She found chances to push her agenda of making dance accessible through site specific venues and non-traditional spaces. She joined improvisational dancers and performed at the Blue Moon, the Meck, in Harpers Ferry, McMurran Hall and at the Men’s Club, always seeking ways to make dance more accessible.

Now the bond that seems to be inherent among artists in all genres is one of encouragement and collaboration. Along the way Kitty found such friends in David Lillard, Colleen Tracey , Ray Shaw, Tosha Tillman, Eva Olsson, Cam Millar, Don Oehser, Laura First, Lissa Brown, Susan Benjamin, Pia Peltola, and many others, all creative and all supportive.

In 2000, fellow dancer, Quincy Northrup suggested Kitty channel her talent into producing a dance festival and the Goose Route Arts Collaborative was born. “Quincy Northrup gave me confidence and trust and a challenge. I like challenge. She suggested starting a dance festival in Shepherdstown and provided the seed money through her Mardi Gras Fund.”

In 2001, the year of the first Goose Route Festival, Kitty called on long-time friends, dancers from DC and New York, to come to Shepherdstown and make it happen. Now in its ninth year the Goose Route Festival boasts artists from around the country, all of whom solicited the opportunity to perform.

“We received thirty five proposals from groups who wanted to participate,” she said with obvious delight. Goose Route was obviously a great idea. “Quincy has been my sounding board. She lets me take the lead but is always there for advice and feedback when I need her.”

Today Goose Route Arts Collaborative is much more than the annual summer dance festival. Throughout the year it offers weekly dance and improvisation classes for adults and kids. It produces concerts and series by area artists. It’s a community-oriented non-profit recognized for its innovative ways of involving anyone who is interested in arts experiences and providing needed artistic outlets for children and adults. Its founder has always believed that all people benefit from arts experiences, and that artists of all genres from all over have much to share with each other and with their audiences. Goose Route Arts Collaborative fills an important niche in the Northern Shenandoah Valley by encouraging the creation and presentation of art that speaks to the local population and by finding ways to make art meaningful and accessible to all.

Kitty Clark is a dancer, a choreographer, a producer, a business person and a research expert. Her life is full of beauty and her work reflects her life. She derives her inspiration these days from her incomparable and Anne Geddes adorable, nine month old daughter, Valerie Cecile Rose. Kitty and Valerie live on the Belleview property in a wonderfully quirky clapboard house full of toys and comfort and surrounded by vegetable and flower gardens. Add to the picture two crazy dogs. Truthfully, ten year old Luvi is sweet and docile. Two year old Mattie Rae on the other hand is one of those super-friendly fifty pound varieties –

“We think there’s some pit bull in her.” Mattie thinks she’s a lap dog.

A saying of which one could never tire is “Dance as though no one is watching. Love as though you have never been hurt. Sing as though no one can hear you. Live as though Heaven is on earth.” An old terrace surrounds a charming home in Shepherdstown catching both morning sun and evening shade. There, among the flowers and peace, another child’s dream is forming as a precious little girl and her beautiful and accomplished Mom, lovesing live and dance.

The Goose Route Festival is in full force through July 26.

– Sue Kennedy is a former public relations executive and Emmy Award winning screenplay writer.