Alexandria, VA – Gennifer Defilippo was all smiles greeting her dancers as they arrived to rehearse for the fourth annual “A Celebration of the Arts” (ACA) to be held Friday, March 13, 7:00 pm at the West Potomac High School Auditorium, 6500 Quander Road, Alexandria.
Since beginning in 2016, ACA has been a primary fundraiser for Defilippo’s foundation, ArtSpireVA, a multi-faceted nonprofit that provides scholarships for youth to experience fine and performing arts, and inspires, uplifts and heals those in need through dance performances. Funds raised through ArtSpire provide scholarships for youth lessons and camps in all performing and visual arts.
“I really wanted to bring all the arts together, so we created A Celebration of the Arts,” Defilippo explained. ArtSpire was known for its dance and benefit performances, so Defilippo began to reach out to local performance groups who quickly agreed to collaborate.
In addition to students in West Potomac’s Beyond the Page Theatre Company and Improv Group, singing and acting performers also hail from the Alexandria Children’s Theatre and Mount Vernon Children’s Community Theatre. Of course, there are dancers, too, from local troupes including Above the Barre, Terry’s School of Dance, Just Dance and Dancensations.
This year, Defilippo is excited to present a pre-show arts activity for younger students. Sophomore Kyra Hopper approached her with the idea of hosting an arts workshop for children, who can take their artwork home with them or donate it to local nursing homes. “ACA has grown bigger every year. In fact, we sold out of the smaller Kogelman Theater last year, so now we’ve upgraded to the main auditorium at West Potomac,” said Defilippo.
Her dancers were ready to go, and Defilippo walked them through the first sections of their dance, an inspirational theme designed to bring awareness to the awful reality of human trafficking. “It’s happening all around us, which is hard to believe. We wanted to expose the subject even though it is difficult to talk about, but it does hit close to home here,” she said.
Defilippo played the song, “Rescue You” by Lauren Daigle, as she blocked out the steps and the dancers followed her lead. The themes of searching, loss, love, and redemption in this dance are expressed through lifts and leaps with outstretched arms and legs.
It’s a collaborative process with these dancers, some of whom have worked with Defilippo for a few years. She gives them the opportunity to transform steps they’ve learned into something more, a chance to tell a story through dance, an art form that unfolds on stages the world over. “Knowing they can inspire someone, that they can make a difference by improving someone’s day or mood, is such a great feeling.”
Dancer Kylie Rapp agreed. She’s been an ArtSpire dancer for five years. “Miss Gennifer first asked me to perform for senior citizens in a nursing home, and I thought it would be a one-time deal. But we’ve done so much more and it’s grown into a beautiful thing. I’ve met so many people and have danced at so many cool events. I never thought I could be part of something like this.”
Rapp, a junior at West Potomac, choreographed a performance at an event last year, the same event in which she also performed in two dances. “It felt different putting my work up there, and it was a thrill to see everyone working on it together. They did a wonderful job. I really loved being involved in something so meaningful.”
Judy Conti has two daughters performing in the ACA for ArtSpire, a dancer and a singer. She believes that exposure to the arts and performing from a young age helps to build confidence and self-esteem, as well as a great work ethic. Conti is an enthusiastic supporter of ArtSpire’s outreach and scholarship programs, thankful that kids have the opportunity to shine even if financial hardships are a reality. She also admires how ArtSpire tackles tough issues such as homelessness, depression, or human trafficking. She said, “Our kids are eager to talk about these issues and the arts gives them a way not just to start that conversation, but also to express themselves and help process their own feelings about the difficult topics they must confront.”
Conti is thankful to have Defilippo as a role model and mentor to her children. “They see her doing what she loves to do and using it to make the world around her a better place.”
Defilippo is doing what she loves, celebrating the arts. She’s excited to see the scholarship students on the stage performing at ACA once again. And through the Ignite Partnership with Fairfax County Schools, guest choreographers Jadee Nikita (a former student of Defilippo) and Jeremy McShan are working with the students on some of the dances they’ll be performing. Some of those kids will then perform at the Washington Wizards game on Saturday. Talk about a slam-dunk.
To support ArtSpireVA, please visit www.artspireva.com, and make a donation. Tickets for “A Celebration of the Arts” may be purchased there also. Silent Auction items will be up for grabs, as well as gift cards at ACA. Tickets are $12 in advance or $15 at the door. Friday, March 13, 7:00 pm, West Potomac High School Auditorium, 6500 Quander Road, Alexandria.