SUBSCRIBE NOW

Milford's own dancing queen

Shannon McNaught * Delaware
shannon.marvel@doverpost.com

“Being able to put what’s in my brain out on stage and entertain, that’s the coolest part of my job,” said Michele Xiques.

Xiques is the director at First State Dance Academy in Milford and for DanceCompany-X. She’s been awarded an “established professional” fellowship in the category of dance choreography by the Delaware Division of the Arts, after being named an “emerging artist” in 2014. The award comes with a $6,000 prize.

Xiques started taking dance classes at three or four years old. She comes from a long line of notable dancers - her grandmother was a Ziegfeld’s Follies dancer and her aunt a Rockette.

“It’s something I’ve always done and I’ve always come back to,” she said.

Lifetime of dance

The 51-year-old Xiques was an Air Force brat, born at Dover Air Force Base but moving around as a child. After high school, she attended Pittburgh’s Point Park University, intending to study dance and psychology.

She auditioned for summer stock performances in the area and won a few contracts, inspiring her to leave college and try to make it on Broadway. They were impressed with her dancing but also required singing skills, so she decided to concentrate on ballet.

Xiques traveled to different ballet companies from season to season, taking contracts in places like Buffalo and Atlanta. It was in Atlanta that she experienced an ankle injury. She came back to Delaware to figure things out in the mid-90s.

Xiques has been a firefighter, an EMT, a phlebotomist, an emergency room tech, a receptionist, a waitress, a nurse, and more, but dance has always been her greatest passion.

Notably, she created the dance program at Sussex Central High School.

“I remember when I was dancing professionally, thinking, ‘I’m done with being on this side. I want to be on that side. I want to choreograph.’ The injury kind of helped me move along with that decision,” she said.

In 2001, Maria Fry turned her Milford dance studio over to Xiques who renamed it First State Dance Academy. She teaches there four nights a week.

The studio offers classes in ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop and contemporary dance. First State recently started offering acro dance, which combines dance with gymnastics and acrobatics.

“It’s incredible to watch the kids transform from the beginning stages of ballet to when they actually get really good at it as a teen,” Xiques said.

As director of DanceCompany-X, Xiques creates and choreographs ballets for 30 to 50 members. She specializes in a type of ballet she created herself and calls “CinemaBallet.”

“I take popular movies and stories and create ballets,” she said. “We started out with ‘Twilight Ballet,’ when ‘Twilight’ was popular. That almost sold out the Schwartz Center on a Thursday night.”

She’s created ballets based on “Pippi Longstocking” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

DanceCompany-X is working on a production based on “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” calling it “The Wizarding World of Ballet.” It will be presented in April at Cape Henlopen High School.

The fellowship

For the Division of the Arts fellowship, Xiques had to submit three different pieces. One was a classical ballet piece, another a dance set to a Martin Luther King, Jr. speech. The third was a combination of ‘The Nutcracker’ and ‘Polar Bear Express.’

“Everybody does ‘Nutcracker,’ so I needed to do something different while still keeping the traditional stuff,” she said.

Xiques’ $6,000 prize is already spent. Half was used on Marley flooring, a roll of rubber flooring used for dance performances, and the other half put toward renting the Cape Henlopen High School theatre in April.

The City of Milford recognized Xiques Feb. 10 with a commendation for her award and contributions to the town. Mayor Arthur Campbell presented her a proclamation of appreciation and gratitude for “making dance a vital and viable passion within our city.”

“That felt really good,” Xiques said. “It’s nice to have an accolade that says that I’m doing something good for the students.”

For more, visit firststatedance.com and danceco-x.com.