Lead with Love


I couldn’t be more proud of our 12 dancers from Eagle County who had the special opportunity to perform at Aspen’s City of Wellbeing Event, Lead with Love, last Friday Oct 27th! They shared their love, joy and light with everyone in the room, including the one and only Deepak Chopra. 

These dancers are particularly special. Let me tell you why… These children are a mix of 5th-7th graders who have been greatly impacted by our in-school program and have chosen to continue dancing with us before school. Yes. You heard me right… BEFORE school! This means, that instead of sleeping in, they choose to come to school early so they can dance. 

In order to be selected for this traveling performance opportunity they must be of good standing academically, be a good example to their peers, a leader in the classroom, and have a great passion to share their joy of dance with others. Not only that, but choose to spend their fall break dancing, when they could be home playing with their friends. 

Our dancers packed their bags for a day trip up to Aspen, thanks to the support of a few parent volunteers who drove them 2.5hrs. We rehearsed, had lunch, and participated in a sample class with the youth program for Lead with Love, Peace Jam! It all culminated with an electric performance, opening up for Deepak Chopra. 

Oh, and of course we couldn’t let the kids go home hungry, so we stopped for some New York Pizza in Aspen, before heading back through the mountains to Eagle County. YUM! It was perfect, and I am certain a day they will remember for a long time to come. 

Watch the performance here: https://vimeo.com/240316526

~Kris Ashley


Back Into the Groove of Crested Butte!


I am not sure if everyone knows this or not, but the original team of CTB was all discovered in the small mountain town of Crested Butte. It is a tiny community of about 4,000 residents, as the crow flies just 25 miles over the Maroon Bells from Aspen.

Dan Rubinoff, our Executive Director, had lived here since the 90’s and had heard about Tracy Straus and CTB, when he founded the Slate River School. During the first years his school participated in CTB, Dan bused over students to perform with Tracy in Aspen. From there, Heather Kratz was recruited in 2008 to teach locally in CB when our theme was Africa. Tracy had been asking around town to see who would be a good fit to help her teach and all directions turned towards Heather, the African dancing fire-ball. She then relocated to the Vail area where she ran our year-round in-school programming for over 5 years. It was a year later that Tracy hired me to do some graphic design. As a last-minute decision, she asked me to assist a residency in Gunnison after finding out my background and history of dance in the valley. I immediately fell in love with the work.

Musical Director David Alderdice with ancient Brazilian instrument and the CB Dream Team

Musical Director David Alderdice with ancient Brazilian instrument and the CB Dream Team

Here I am, nine years later, coming back home to teach and direct our CTB show for its 13th year. Originally, when I met Tracy, I never could have imagine the places this job would take me, much less leave this little slice of heaven called Crested Butte. Since 2009, I have traveled all over Colorado to places in the North Fork Valley, Eagle County, and all over the greater Denver area. I have landed in Riviera Nayarit, Mexico where I run our program, Celebrando el Ritmo, and teach over 500 local children annually. I have been reminded of how big our world is and have spread my wings into new places.

My yearly homecoming to teach in Crested Butte is like a big family reunion. I am now teaching my friend’s children and seeing old students graduate high school. I get to reunite myself with the West Elk mountains and pedal my bike over trails that I pedaled my first mountain bike on over 15 years ago.  To walk through the doors at the Crested Butte Community School, a place that has had CTB for so many years, is like a big warm hug. Our program is embraced, celebrated, and appreciated. The children look forward to their CTB Fall residency all year.


To Celebrate the Beat and the town of Crested Butte, I owe you a big thank you! You both have shaped me into the woman I am today. Both have embraced me, honored uniqueness, and have launched me into the creative life I am living now. For this I am extremely grateful. We must take adventures in order to know where we truly belong. I am so happy to be part of the CTB and Crested Butte family.

By Colleen Macomber


CTB's Recipe for a Creative Explosion

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CTB at the Vail International Dance Festival

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I love reading recipes and cooking up uniquely delicious treats.  And for sure, what Celebrate The Beat created for the Vail International Dance Festival was unique in its wild joy and energy and delicious in celebration of the captivating wonder of dance.

So, here is CTB's Recipe for a Creative Explosion


3 tireless lead teaching artists

3 dedicated assistant teaching artists

3 brilliant musicians

1 large elementary school

120 children

1 Bill Irwin

2 school buses

1 amphitheater

3 helpful interns

A pinch of Damian and Heather


1.  Choose a curricular theme - ours was Visual Arts - and hone in on Big Idea - ours was Chagall, Picasso and Haring.

2.  Hire appropriate staff - mostly local.  Tim Ribner from Seattle was a great choice as our incredible Musical Director.  Follow up with said staff regarding plane tickets, etc.

2.  Choose music to support Big Idea - Carmen, Klezmer, Gypsy Jazz and hip hop.

3.  Create choreography at a Professional Development retreat. Film the choreography.  

4.  Enroll families in POP HOP and prepare all for what is/was in-store which is/was: dancing for three hours daily, for a week.

5.  DANCE. Start with building the finale - letter “H” for ‘Haring’. Use constant inventiveness, humor, challenges and basically every ounce of energy you have to keep 120 children fully engaged for three hours each day.

6.  Keep rehearsing and mix in Bill Irwin.

7.  Keep rehearsing and, on the day of the show, bus the children to the stage at 3:00pm.

8.  Space the children on the stage from 4:00-5:00pm after being stuck in crazy traffic on I-70.

9.  Have a pizza party and then entertain 120 children for two hours by splitting them into five distinct groups and having the teachers rotate from group-to-group engaging them in a new game every 20 minutes.

10.  Change into t-shirt costumes, walk down a long path to backstage, pass Misty Copeland and….

11. Perform to the delight of a crowd of thousands….


Watch the delight on the faces of those in the audience and bask in their applause.


Two Life-Changing Weeks for the Children of Sitka Fine Arts Camp

Our founder Tracy Straus reflects on her time teaching in Alaska

Celebrate the Beat Founder Tracy Straus teaching students at Sitka Fine Arts Camp

Celebrate the Beat Founder Tracy Straus teaching students at Sitka Fine Arts Camp


I am just back from two weeks in Sitka, Alaska where I taught daily Celebrate The Beat (CTB) classes to local children at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp.  Having had this wonderful, intense experience, I am more grateful than ever for the invaluable life lessons children absorb through the CTB system and for the system itself: National Dance Institute, begun by Jacques d’Amboise 41 years ago.  

The students in the community were new to CTB, and for the first week they did not crack a smile. I think they were in a state of shock. They were taking five classes a day that included choir, jazz band, mural-making, photography, just to name a few of the 40 arts offerings at the camp.  For our dance classes, they were being invited to reach this high or try this hard and remember this much and move this quickly.  And this was all new to them.  Really, really, REALLY new.  Finally, after me persevering and never giving up on them, the smiles on their faces when they finally GOT IT were so bright it brought sunshine to the rainiest place on earth. (I was cold and drenched for the entire 2 weeks.)

Those who have not experienced CTB quickly come to realize that live music is integral to the program, taking our classes and the final performance to a level of vibrancy that awakens the core of potential. Tim Ribner accompanied me on the trip, and his musical selections were beyond compare.  Tim put together a huge (and extraordinary) band for our performance that included two trombones and a trumpet, sax, bass, guitar and drums.  Because Sitka is a high-level performing arts camp, the musicians teaching at the camp were truly fantastic, and their camaraderie supporting our dancers was magical. You can hear (and see) the energy below:


After the show a row of moms cheered me so loudly I turned around to see who they were cheering for as I did not know a single one before I had introduced myself on stage.  They were so grateful to see their children pushed to succeed at the highest level.

The journey we take our students on shows them that they can learn anything and, for that matter, to accomplish anything.  The grit it takes to make your body remember steps to music, with a group, to push yourself physically, and then to joyfully collapse after running the piece - breathing so hard you think your heart will explode - all builds character. I saw this with my own eyes. I am still overwhelmed with the satisfaction of knowing these children accomplished things they never dreamed possible.

Now, I’m back in Denver to work with our All Stars in our Summer Institute and to teach our Joyful Arts Camp.  We are hosting two fundraisers in the next two weeks; one in Denver and the other in Aspen.  I have never felt better about asking people to support this program. It is unparalleled in its effectiveness to motivate children to push themselves to succeed, and the joy in building that kind of character is profound.



Celebrate the Beat students perform at  The Broadmoor

Celebrate the Beat students perform at The Broadmoor


From Red Sandstone Elementary in Vail to Red Hill Elementary in Gypsum, over 1,000 children's lives were impacted through the magic of Celebrate the Beat this year. Whether it was a 14 week residency or 3 week visit to a particular school, it was so rewarding to see the gift of live music and dance being taught to children, who, for some, are experiencing this joy for the first time. 

The excitement and methodology by which we teach is ALL inclusive. We turn the room around to never have a child feel as though they are in the back of the classroom or would go unnoticed. EVERY child is important in our classroom, and EVERY child gets to experience success in a way they may never have the opportunity to sitting at their desk in their classroom day in and day out. And for me, that is the joy of our teaching. To reach EVERY single child, know them by name and to provide them each a special and unique experience, sharing our love for the art of dance and appreciation for live music and movement. Following our final performance, the children gather to share with us their journey and transformation through Celebrate the Beat, from beginning to end. 

Here is what I heard time and time again this year: Children step into our rooms for their very first class, most of them nervous, disinterested or even resistant to the desire to try our dance program. It is an unknown, after all, and that can be scary and intimidating. However, in just 45 short minutes, it's incredible to see their minds shift as they learn that they have a joy and appreciation for the high energy classroom experience we provide, and slowly, smiles cover their faces. They actually value our expectations of excellence and feel encouraged to rise to their fullest potential with great focus. The hands raised at the end of the residency, especially from our young boys, who share that they have now found a new passion in dance. It is quite humbling and rewarding. To see that you have made a difference in a young child's life is the best gift ever. We truly have the best jobs in the world as CTB teachers.

The Beauty of Mexico

Colleen Macomber, our Mexico Program Director, reflects on the joys of teaching IN NAYARIT, MEXICO

Celebrate the Beat Students Walk From School To The Plaza For Rehearsal In Mexico

Celebrate the Beat Students Walk From School To The Plaza For Rehearsal In Mexico


Dust blows over the basketball court where we teach. Gas trucks play songs as they pass by. Sometimes the roosters crow louder than I can count to the dancers.  The live music must excite them. It is not uncommon for our furry little friends to join classes. They often follow their owners to school.

There are more celebrations down here in México than in New Orleans, where I grew up. We have kid’s day, teacher’s day, fisherman’s day, flag day, revolution day, and day of the dead. Each town has their own festival and each school has their own day to celebrating their name.

We have school competitions of all sorts. We have a fútbol, flag saluting, singing the national anthem, and even cleaning-up-the-school competitions. We have tourists who peek through the gates to see the live music. My favorite is when people in neighboring houses tell me that they wake up each morning we teach to the children counting. 5-6-7-8.

Needless to say, teaching in México is raw, exciting, and unpredictable. It has taught me tremendous life lessons and how to go with the flow. The Pacific Ocean is a constant reminder of that. The students have nicknamed me Maestra Brincolin (Spanish for trampoline). To hear my name as I walk down local streets is a welcomed sound. The children here are loving, funny, caring, and have brought out the best in me.

Humor is the best form of expression and laughter is the best medicine. Teaching excellence is the key ingredient to our program’s success and the children expect that with Celebrando el Ritmo. ¡Dale con ganas, alegría, fuerza y confianza!

An Aspirational Future

In a month, five of us (three board members and Dan and I) are gathering to partake in the first of what we hope will be many inspired and inspiring visioning sessions.  Because everyone’s voices are crucial to the long-term success of CTB, engaging our stakeholders in our deep dive into big picture thinking is vitally important. I am extremely grateful to have time and space for all of us to contribute our hopes, dreams, fears - anything and everything. So, we first answer WHY we are compelled to nurture CTB, which will then lead us to answering HOW we will do so.  The strategic plan and practical issues of discussing events, funding, etc, will happen after we’ve been given this room for creativity, sharing and dreaming.  The essential process is about marrying imagination and strategy – taking intuitive, creative and informed leaps into a possible, aspirational future.

At the suggestion of Horst Abraham, a brilliant business advisor who led my seminar at National Arts Strategies, I’m asking each of us to prepare for our meeting by writing two newspaper articles with headlines: One reporting becoming wildly successful in the pursuit of our ‘Everest Goal’ with short news clips to embellish and add detail to the imagined success story. The other, a failure story, again creating headlines that spell out why CTB failed. Prompts for writing include questions like: What are you most proud of? What are our top 1-3 major accomplishments or “big wins”?  What difference did this make in the world? In the past X years, what is the most significant breakthrough that launched the organization into a whole new level of wild success? How? What happened? Who helped make it happen? What was different?

The purpose of this exercise is to help each of us articulate our own personal WHY which will in turn lead us all toward determining the HOW.  And when we are clear on the why and how, we can happily move into creating our strategic plan.