The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

December 10, 2009

Dale Lam, Andie MacDowell, Andie’s daughter, my daughter, and The Two Claras

We have quite a few hidden artistic treasures in Columbia.  Some are folks who not a lot of people know about so these treasures labor along in the glow of the fortunate few who are aware of their magic.  Some of our treasures are underused — they are the people who could shake things up, put us on the map, as it were, if the right spotlight found them at the right time.  And then there are those of our treasures who are actually quite well-known and much in demand away from town but, having plied their wares on us before without due recognition, they have surrendered to working quietly for a larger audience and given up on being known for their greatness on a local basis.

Choreographer Dale Lam fits into all of the categories above.

Dale is the owner and artistic director of the Columbia City Jazz School and Company, a non-profit performing arts organization which will be presenting a modern version of the Nutcracker called The Two Claras, this Thursday and Friday nights at Drayton Hall.  You may have heard about the fact that South Carolina native film star, Andie MacDowell, who names herself as one of Dale’s biggest fans, will be performing along with the young dancers.  You may also have heard that The Two Claras is a nice break from the traditional Nutcracker in that everything from the choreography to the costuming is contemporary and upbeat — less predictable, more exciting.  But you probably haven’t heard about how much raw talent will be on the stage this weekend, or how much of herself Dale Lam has put into getting them there.

I’m not a money person.  When people start talking about cash my mind goes to that Charlie Brown place and all I hear is, “wah, wah-wah, wah wah wah.”  I don’t want anyone to hear those sounds when I talk myself, so I usually just avoid the subject altogether.  But I can’t really convey to you an accurate picture of the gift that Dale Lam gives to her students without mentioning money — or the absence of it.  Because that’s mostly what there is — an absence.  But do not think for a minute that the lack of cash in any way determines whether this woman will work with talented students or not.  Like Andie MacDowell said in an interview I conducted with her which will one day be published in Stir Magazine, Dale isn’t interested in making money — she’s interested in making dancers.

Kindness and Andie MacDowell aside, the show Dale and her kids put on is a fine one.  A couple of her male dancers are extraordinary and the young female dancer she brought in from the university at the last minute to dance the part of the older Clara has quite a dance history herself.  Yes, it’s my kid – – although at 21 it could be argued that she’s old enough that her momma ought not be bragging on her when she writes her blog.  Whatever.

Although tempting, I won’t print the entirety of my article on Ms. MacDowell which will one day appear in Stir Magazine, however, I will include below an excerpt from the piece which deals specifically with Andie’s relationship with Dale Lam — which is why I wrote the article.


MacDowell and Lam first began their association when MacDowell’s older daughter, Rainey, had the opportunity to take a master class from the highly sought after Lam in a nearby Asheville, North Carolina studio.  As younger daughter Sarah Margaret’s interest and talent in contemporary dance grew, MacDowell recognized the unique gifts that Lam brings to her students and made a commitment to insure that Sarah Margaret continue to work with Lam, despite the distance between Lam’s studio in Columbia and the MacDowell’s North Carolina home.

Over the years, a friendship developed, turning the tables on MacDowell to the point that she sometimes refers to herself as Dale Lam’s biggest fan.

“The gift that Dale has – the gift she gives to her students,” MacDowell says with intention, “is nothing short of genius.”

She goes on.

“Dale’s musicality is literally the best I’ve ever seen.  I’ve yet to find anyone who can teach a child how to hear the music, and to feel the music, the way that Dale can.  She is a genius, plain and simple.”

That recognizable genius is what has inspired MacDowell to not only entrust her daughter’s training to Lam, but to devote herself to helping her friend, in any way she can, achieve portions of her life’s goal – sharing her gifts with as many talented children as possible, no matter what the circumstances of their lives may be.

“I can afford to pay for my daughter’s instruction, but not everyone can,” MacDowell says.  “And Dale will never turn a talented student away.”

MacDowell also points out that the Columbia City Jazz School, whose students feed into the Columbia City Jazz pre-professional company, is a not-for-profit organization; a fairly unusual enterprise among instructional institutions in this day and age.

“Clearly, Dale isn’t in this to make money. She’s in it to make dancers,” MacDowell explains. “She continually gives to these young people in her charge – she treats them like they’re her own children, not just her students, often opening her home to the children” MacDowell says.

“And if I can help her – if I can be a part of her mission – then I am delighted.”

That’s why for the second year in a row MacDowell has agreed to participate in the Columbia City Jazz Company’s presentation of The Two Claras, on December 11th and 12th at USC’s Drayton Hall.  In the show, MacDowell narrates the story of Lam’s take on a modern Nutcracker – based very loosely on the traditional Tchaikovsky classic – while jazz company members, including MacDowell’s daughter, Sarah Margaret Qualley, perform Lam’s contemporary choreography to a modern score.  Performances are at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday, with a Saturday matinee at 1 PM.


Go see The Columbia City Jazz Dance Company Presents The Two Claras:  A Tale of “The Nutcracker” for Modern Times, featuring special guests Andie McDowell and Dana from Kidz Bop, (not to mention my kid), at Drayton Hall, Friday and Saturday, December 11th & 12th at 7:30 PM and Saturday at 1 pm.  Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by calling 803.252.0252 or visiting

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