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NUVO Dance Convention inspires Buffalo's dance scene

The faculty of NUVO Dance Convention

BY: Lauren Kirchmyer | April 09, 2014

Ray Leeper created NUVO Dance Convention seven years ago as a way to offer dance education in a new unique way.

“I was teaching on a convention called Jump when Gil Stroming, who owns Jump, approached me about starting my own convention,” Leeper said. “It would be run by me and created with the staff I wanted.”

The faculty he selected includes Emmy Award nominees, a world record holder and a successful Rochester native to name a few.

“I wanted to create an environment where kids could learn in a healthy, down-to-earth environment with a celebrity faculty,” Leeper said. “I try to inspire my faculty, then the inspiration trickles down to the teachers and students who come to the convention.”

Last weekend, NUVO visited the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center downtown as part of the 27-city 2013-14 tour. Students ages 5 and up had the ability to train with Leeper, along with Travis Wall, Jason Parsons, Chebar Williams, Anthony Morigerato, Denise Wall, Stacey Tookey, Dana Foglia, Kim McSwain and Kenny Wormald.

“We’re able to touch so many kids lives at one time,” McSwain said. “I might be the only person to ever tell a kid they’re beautiful or talented. That’s really powerful.”

Before joining NUVO, McSwain was on the Jump faculty with Leeper, who was also one of her first jazz teachers.

“Ray is my favorite man on the planet,” McSwain said. “Everyone on this faculty is humble, truly passionate about educating and incredibly supportive. Every teacher at NUVO cares. We want to make a difference.”

“We all enjoy the weekends so much,” Leeper said. “People appreciate what we’re doing. My favorite part is the feeling I get from inspiring people.”

Throughout the weekend, classes were offered in styles such as tap, hip hop, contemporary and ballet. Classes were split into six age levels: teacher (18 and up), senior (16-19), teen (13-15), junior (11-12), mini (7-10) and nubie (5-7).

Dancers ages 7-19 had the opportunity during the weekend to audition for scholarships towards regional NUVO conventions, summer intensives, and for The Dance Awards in New York City or Las Vegas. Students and studios also had their opportunity to compete on Friday and Saturday night. Though many studios from out of town won the top prizes, Orchard Park’s Mary Alice’s Dance Studio won “Best Nu Group” for their tap routine “When I’m Gone.”

It was an exciting and energetic weekend, but awards and scholarships are not what NUVO is about.

“Don’t focus on winning or on your faults. Hard work is way more important,” McSwain said. “Kids have the opportunity to change the world. Dance should be a place where they feel perfect.”

Didn’t get to stop by NUVO? No worries, Leeper plans to return again in the future.

“I know a lot of teachers in this region who are huge supporters of mine,” he explained. “There are a lot of people who love what we offer.”

And the faculty loves what the students, teachers and parents give in return.

“The talent in Buffalo is phenomenal,” McSwain said. “There are really focused students, and the teachers educate really well. It’s one of our favorite cities.”

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