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Kim Stroud of Madison was recently honored with the 2018 Arts Hero Award for her work inspiring and mentoring young artists as the director of the arts at The Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts High School. (Photo by Susan Talpey/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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As the principal soloist in a international dance company, Kim Stroud of Madison has danced on famous stages around the world. On April 25, she trod the boards at Hartford Stage for a different reason: to receive the 2018 Arts Hero Award from the Department of Economic and Community Development’s Office of the Arts.
“The award recognizes people that are using the arts to change lives. Much to my surprise, I found my calling when I was in high school, so I’ve been in the arts, in one way or another, my whole life,” Kim says. “I’m a reasonably intelligent, reasonably competent, and reasonably responsible person, so I’m sure that if I hadn’t discovered dance I would have found something else to do, but I can’t imagine any other path that would have engaged all of me. My heart, my soul, my mind, my body, everything.”
As the director of the arts at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts High School, Kim’s dedication and commitment to developing thousands of young artists saw her selected from 165 nominees for the award.
“I absolutely enjoy sharing that [love of the arts] and seeing the lightbulb that goes off in the minds of young artists when they discover that this is who they are,” she says. “That moment when they discover their voice, their power, and their ability to make change. In the arts, this is real and I know because I’ve seen it.”
A Dream Career
In fact, it was Kim’s own “lightbulb moment” that sparked her passion to become a professional dancer.
“I grew up in New York City, from humble beginnings with working parents. My mother would sign us up for free workshops after school, so I did piano, guitar, karate, and then I hit on a dance class. It was a folk dance class—I was about 12 years old—and it just clicked. I thought, ‘I do this well’ and the lightbulb went off,” she says
Kim took every after-school dance class she could find and was accepted to the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in Manhattan.
“I learned a lot about the culture of dance and the arts. I had no formal training...The closest I had come to dancing on stage was at a middle school talent show,” she says “I questioned whether this was the right thing for me to do or not, but my competitive spirit refused to allow me to give up so I stuck it out and in the second year, it clicked.”
Kim completed a bachelor of fine arts in dance at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Purchase, leaving campus a few weeks early to take her first professional dance job: a last-minute replacement in the chorus of a touring Broadway production, Your Arms Too Short to Box with God.
“I had one day of rehearsal and I was on stage. It was scary to be there and I was lip syncing the songs because I didn’t know them, but I felt well prepared from my years of studies,” she says. “It was an eye-opening experience. It was my first time on an airplane and my first time outside the tri-state area.”
At the end of the nine-month tour around the country, Kim returned to New York City and landed a role with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet.
“I was there two years and it was a wonderful dance job, but I decided that ballet was not my thing,” she says.
Making this big decision opened up a remarkable opportunity for Kim: a job with the Martha Graham Dance Company, a world-renowned contemporary dance troupe. Over the next decade, Kim traveled the world and danced on famous stages, working up the competitive dance ranks to principal soloist.
“It was my first opportunity to travel outside the country and I spent seven or eight months traveling all over the world for 12 years. It’s easier to name the countries I haven’t been to than names the places I’ve been, but some highlights were my first solo on stage at the Paris Opera and ‘Song,’ a dance Martha Graham wrote for me based on the Song of Solomon,” she says.
“It was an incredible job and I loved it. As I grew older the wear and tear on the body takes its toll and life’s priorities change. I wanted a real home and a family. So I said goodbye and mourned the end of a life.”
Two Lives are Better than One
Fortunately, for Kim and the many students she has taught and mentored, her “second life” was her discovered passion for arts education. Kim began teaching in college arts programs at her alma mater SUNY Purchase and the University of Hartford, then coordinated the Hartford Ballet’s dance program for city youth, identifying talented young dancers and awarding scholarships to make their dance dreams a reality.
A chance visit to the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts High School in 1994 uncovered a passion for teaching young artists and a 24-year journey to her current role as director of the arts. Kim is also the general director of the Center for Creative Youth, a pre-college summer arts program at Wesleyan College.
“I love working with college students to fine tune them as an artist, to teach the nuances that are the differences between a professional and an amateur. But at high school, you get to see them have that lightbulb moment. It’s not subtle, it’s an explosion, an awakening,” she says.
“They don’t know that they’re not supposed to be able to do things, so they do everything. I want to teach that if it’s not made, they can make it, that they have the power,” she says. “I love the fact that as artists they are not cynical or jaded yet, they wholeheartedly believe in themselves.”
Kim’s many professional honors include being named a member of the International Dance Council of UNESCO. The National Dance Education Organization awarded her Outstanding Dance Educator of the Year in 2005 and in 2009, she received the Teacher of the Year award from the International Arts Schools Network.
From 2002 to 2008, Kim traveled to Africa every year with a group of U.S. teenagers and teachers as part of a program to learn and share culture with their African counterparts through dance, theatre, visual art, and music.
“Even though we couldn’t speak the same language, through singing, dancing, and playing music we have a universal language and we can communicate with each other. In Africa, there is an interweaving of the arts, whereas in the U.S. they are separate, and it’s interesting to watch that. For the students, they learn to respect what everyone brings to the table-and to learn that everyone has something to bring,” she says.
And in her second life, Kim found her real home in Madison, with her husband, Connecticut native Guy Jaconelli. They’ve lived in town for 22 years.
“We moved to Connecticut to start afresh and I found my place to be. It can be challenging to commute to Hartford in a snow storm, but it gives me the opportunity to be away from work and live my life here,” she says. “I couldn’t see myself living in a city again. I like sitting on my deck and seeing the woods and the flowers, and being able to just breathe.”
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