Hollis Mackintosh was almost two years old, she discovered her passion. “The story is that I wouldn’t go to sleep at night. My mother took me to a ‘Mommy and Me’ dance class when I was 18 months old in an effort to find a creative way to wear me out,” she said. “It worked like a charm for the length of the class, but as soon as it was over I started throwing fits, wanting to go back to dance class. I had decided early on that dancing was my thing.”
Mackintosh, currently the director of Northern Plains Dance, is from Deansboro, a small town in upstate New York where, according to her, there are more cows than people. Her parents soon found Delia Foley who had spent time in London attending the Royal Academy of Dance, the school of the Royal Ballet. Foley had returned to the states to dance professionally, but an injury prevented her from pursuing a performing career. She then became certified as an instructor through the Royal Academy of Dance. Foley’s parents converted an old roller skating rink into a dance studio for her in the early 70’s.
“I was the only kid my age from my high school that attended Delia’s school,” said Mackintosh. “I grew up with a really close group of ballet friends that came from high schools around the area. There were eight of us that graduated the same year, and five of us are still working in the arts.”
The dance studio was located 15 miles from Deansboro. “I was really lucky to grow up with a dad that worked 100 feet from the house. He was available to drive me to ballet class every day.”
Her dad is an independent woodworker who makes fine furniture in an old barn he converted into a studio and her mom is a college vice president. She credits her parents for making sure she had balance in her busy life. “My parents made sure I knew I couldn’t spend all of my time in ballet class and fail all my tests,” said Mackintosh. “They were very supportive and helped me to balance two different worlds.”
Mackintosh did manage a very diverse and hectic high school schedule. She was Student Council president, active in the music and theatre departments, and maintained her ballet classes. Sometimes she would hang out with her ballet friends over coffee and, other times, she would cheer on the football team with high school buddies.
Part of the discipline that helped her accomplish all of this was learned in ballet classes. “Delia was like my second mom,” explained Mackintosh. “She ruled with a firm hand. She definitely saw ballet as a tradition that was meant to be honored.”
Once Mackintosh reached a certain level in her training, she was asked to also join the Mohawk Valley Ballet, where Foley was the artistic director. “There is a lot of the Mohawk Valley Ballet reflected in the structure of Northern Plains Dance,” said Mackintosh. “We [NPD] have the tradition of doing Nutcracker every year, like they did, and hiring a top notch Nutcracker Prince from out of state. Depending on the level of students available, we might bring in a Sugar Plum Fairy or a Snow Queen, too.”
In her senior year of high school, Mackintosh did a couple of auditions for professional companies but felt she wasn’t quite ready. A professional company employs dancers, typically on an annual contract. The companies do their shows throughout the year and then let the dancers know whether or not they will be asked to return the next season. Dancers are then free to audition for other companies, if they desire.
“My parents told me I should look for a really good dance college, try it for a year and see if I felt better prepared to audition for companies,” said Mackintosh. “The one thing I wasn’t allowed to do was stay home.”
She decided on Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, one of the top dance colleges in the country. She absolutely fell in love with college and ended up getting two degrees. “I decided as long as I was going to be there, I was going to work as hard as I could,” said Mackintosh. “One of the big lessons I learned while I was there is it is all well and good to work toward a professional dance career, it is a valid and lofty goal, but you have to keep in mind it doesn’t last forever, bodies give out and you need to have a plan B.”
She received a BFA in Dance Performance and a degree in Arts Administration. “I never thought I would like the business side of it, but found it really fascinating,” she said. “I loved my time at Butler.”
One of Mackintosh’s students, Breanna Manley, is showing interest in auditioning for Butler. This is wonderful news to Mackintosh, who wants her students to know there is more outside of Bismarck. “I try to expose them to the bigger world,” she said. “Last summer two of my students got into the Colorado Ballet summer program and this summer Breanna got into the Boston Ballet, which is even more competitive.”
Mackintosh joined the Louisville Ballet for three years after college, and she also spent time with Cincinnati Ballet and Augusta Ballet. It was during her time in Augusta that her path turned towards Bismarck.
“One day our director came in and told us the Board of Directors had shut the company down,” she said. “I really enjoyed it there. It was a smaller company and we were doing really impressive work. Luckily, one of the guys had danced (at Northern Plains) in Bismarck previously. He called the artistic director and told him he had some dancers looking for work and four of us moved here completely sight unseen.”
Moving to Bismarck
“At that time (in 2006), Northern Plains Dance was a professional ballet company,” said Mackintosh. “I had my U-Haul, my parents, my brother and my cat. My parents decided to make the move our first family vacation since I started going away to ballet summer programs when I was ten. I didn’t even have an apartment.”
Mackintosh spent the season performing lead roles with Northern Plains Dance. At the close of the 2006-2007 season, the Board of Directors decided to change the direction of the organization. They dissolved the professional company and took the steps to focus energies back on the school, building a professional quality training center in Bismarck.
Mackintosh decided to stay with the organization and help with the new direction. “I had injured myself during the year and it was the type of injury where I had a choice. I could keep dancing or I could walk,” she said. “I picked walking. It was a really difficult decision but I was tired of moving around the country and thought it was time to try out my other degree, see if being an administrator was as interesting as it looked in the classroom.”
Initially hired as the school director, Mackintosh quickly found that she enjoyed the artistic side of administration as well. “I initially approached it as kind of an academic challenge, I figured if I could make some progress in a year, then I might be on to something,” she said. “But I discovered the kids. I had never thought I would make teaching a big part of my career, but I absolutely love it and the students inspire me daily. It had never occurred to me that my second career could involve being both an administrator and a teacher.”
She has focused on developing her students’ dancing skills and is inspired by the results. “When it comes to restructuring the company to be based on students rather than professionals, you have to know there will be a difference in levels. I set the bar high, and I keep telling them they are shooting themselves in the foot because they keep meeting my expectations and forcing me to raise the bar further. The level of our performances keeps going up. I am really proud.”
Northern Plains Dance has also made an effort to develop relationships with professional dancers who participate in the Nutcracker production. These dancers are asked back for a summer intensive that draws students from a tri-state area. “This helps expose students in the region to the bigger world,” explained Mackintosh. “We, both the staff and the students, have developed some really fantastic relationships with professional dancers that come back regularly.”
Mackintosh does all of the grant writing, some of the teaching and the costuming at Northern Plains Dance. She shares choreographic duties with Carly Schaub, the education coordinator. “I found a really fantastic artistic partner,” said Mackintosh. “She deserves a lot of credit for where we are as an organization and where I am personally. She inspires me!”
Northern Plains Dance takes several steps to make sure their students are continually challenged. The Choreographers’ Showcase is a repertoire show of dances that stand on their own. “Last year we were honored to present a world premiere of a wonderful piece done by David Gensheimer, who has been our Nutcracker prince for the past few years,” said Mackintosh. “He went to Haiti to help after the earthquake and his experience inspired him to create a piece that was really emotionally driven and challenging.”
The students also work with live musicians, which helps them to communicate with other artists. “It has been important for us as an organization to be an active part of the arts community,” said Mackintosh. “The arts are not an us versus them situation. Art should be a collaboration where you feed off of each other’s energy. I think it’s important for Northern Plains Dance to be a leader in making sure the arts have a bigger presence in Bismarck. It’s vital that children have the opportunity to experience the arts while they are growing up and it’s vital that communities have thriving arts in order for them to grow.”
Like most arts organizations, Northern Plains Dance is a non-profit. This ensures dance is available to anyone who wants to participate and that scholarship and outreach programs are available. “Dance is something we do because we love it and think it is important,” said Mackintosh. “It’s important because the kids need to learn self-confidence and dedication. All kids need an outlet and if they find an artistic outlet, I think they are lucky. We aren’t just teaching a three-year-old to point their toes, we are teaching them to listen to music. We are teaching them to be creative thinkers and better community members. Corporations are going after people with fine arts majors, because they end up with people who think outside of the box. I want to make sure these kids could be professional dancers, in any genre, if they wanted to. But, I also want to make sure if they decide to be a doctor, they are the most creative doctor that’s ever come along.”
Mackintosh has certainly made a difference in her students’ lives. “She has shaped my dancing,” said Manley. “She taught me what ballet is. She made me realize what an art form it is and how you can express yourself through your dancing. She always wants us to be the best.”
Northern Plains Dance will likely have the leadership of Mackintosh for quite some time. “It’s a wonderful community,” she said. “I’ve been really honored to meet many great people that make Bismarck feel like home.”
One of those great people is her fiancé Chris Heid, co-owner of HeidCo Construction. “We met over paintbrushes. Staff members had recruited friends to repaint the sets for the Nutcracker a few years ago. I’m a really bad painter and Chris was there to fix the mess I had made,” she laughed. “Poor guy, he didn’t realize then that Nutcracker was going to be around for the rest of his life.”
And, she loves her students. “I’m kind of sappy about my kids,” she said. “People ask me all the time if I have kids and my standard response has become, ‘Yeah, about 120 of them!’ and I mean it. They are a big part of why I’m here.”
For more information on Northern Plains Dance, visit northernplainsdance.org or call 530.0986.
December 9th, 2011 7:30pm
December 10th, 2011 2:30pm & 7:30pm
December 11th, 2011 2:30pm
Going for Baroque
In collaboration with the Missouri Valley Chamber Orchestra
February 24th, 2012 7:30pm
February 25th, 2012 2:30pm & 7:30pm
May 19th, 2012 2:30pm & 7:30pm
May 20th, 2012 2:30pm