The Music in Motion School of Higher Dance Education certainly knows how to celebrate. Starting in June, founder and artistic director Charlita Schuster is planning a full year of activities leading up to the school’s 40th anniversary.
Schuster, born in New York City, moved to her father’s home island of St. Croix as a young girl. There, she developed her passion for dance with Theater Dance, where she was discovered as a gifted and talented student. Recognizing her talent, her parents moved her back to New York so she could continue with her dance training and instruction.
She is a graduate of the High School of Performing Arts in New York City and has studied at the Ballet Theater in Carnegie Hall. She also received training from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Dance Theatre of Harlem. She has danced with the City Ballet Company of Honolulu, Hawaii, as well as with Ballet Florida in West Palm Beach under artistic director Marie Hale.
Schuster returned to St. Croix at the age of 25 and was looking for a classical ballet school to teach at or continue her dancing as a professional. She didn’t find what she was looking for, so she decided to start a school of her own and opened Music in Motion Dance Academy in 1982, now called Music in Motion School of Higher Dance Education.
“The reason why I changed the name was because I wanted to educate the community that dance is an educational development, not just something fun to do,” she said. “It’s a development of your life and education and it can go all the way through college and beyond.”
Schuster said she’s also spent time changing mindsets.
“I think the community was quite confused about where dance really can take you. Instead of encouraging students to continue on dancing and make a career of it, they’d just say ‘oh, she just doing this for fun’ or ‘I don’t want her to be a dancer because she’s not going to make any money out of it,’ but that’s not true. That’s why I changed [the name] to Higher Education, so you can go higher than what you are until you get your dance degree and even become a professor of dance and also a great performer in the world. It goes higher, higher, higher not lower, lower, lower.”
Since opening the school, Schuster and her team have taught hundreds of students. They have traveled to Denmark to perform and the school is affiliated with several international schools. Students have studied at the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Ballet Florida. They have traveled through much of the country as well as Antigua, St. Maarten, St. Kitts and other islands.
Music in Motion has a very strong base in classical ballet, using the Vaganova Syllabus, which is a Russian method of ballet, for ages 4 to 22. That classical ballet is the primary method taught, but they also offer a cultural dance program, with tap, acrobatics, quadrille, African and Latin dance. Bamboula was added for the first time last year, taught by Chenzira Kahina, who also used to work at the University of the Virgin Islands. While the company does not offer an adult program at this time, Djassi DaCosta Johnson teaches yoga and different health and wellness training classes at the school. Other dance instructors include Schuster’s daughter, Jah-Neisha Withey, Amal Bryson, Allayeah John-Baptiste and Heather Lundgren.
“We added the cultural dance because they are from the Virgin Islands, so we didn’t want to teach them just the classical ballet, but also the culture of dance as well, because you have to be well-rounded. You can’t just be one style.”
In addition to teaching at Music in Motion, Schuster was asked to help develop the ballet syllabus at UVI for its new bachelor of fine arts program, which was introduced in 2020. A new dance studio on the St. Croix campus opened earlier this year.
According to Schuster, it took two years of work to write the syllabus and get it approved by the board. The UVI program commenced in 2020, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that they were able to designate a space and remodel it to become a dance studio, which opened earlier this year.
“While we were planning to design it, the pandemic came and everything came to a kind of a halt. They had to teach everything virtually because everything had changed. Nobody was going out. So, they had a whole year of virtual dance training,” she said. “That was even hard for me, too, teaching a class at Woodson. I had to teach virtual dance for them as well.”
In June, Music in Motion will begin its full year of events celebrating its 40th anniversary. The first event will be a dance performance, tentatively planned for the second Saturday in June.
“We’re looking for businesses and other organizations to participate with us,” Schuster said, “maybe get 40 businesses to join us, so we can do different dance displays, photographs, costumes, anything that can bring up the 40-year history of Dance in Motion on St. Croix.”