Nonprofit Portland Youth Dance marked its 25th anniversary Feb. 2 with its Glitz & Glam Gala at the Woodfords Club in Portland. With so many lifelong dancers attending the 21-plus fundraiser, it wasn’t at all surprising that it concluded with a lively and eclectic dance party (kudos to DJ Steady).

The celebration began with a tribute to the three women – Sheila Bellefleur, Laurie Chiasson and Missy “MissE” Cloutier – who founded Upbeat Feet Dance Company in 1998 as an alternative to competitive dance.

Bellefleur said, “It’s been a deeply moving journey for me to witness generations of these young dancers grow into adulthood, effecting positive change in the world as educators, artists, parents, leaders, entrepreneurs, social activists, Peace Corps volunteers and contributors in a variety of professions, including engineering, medicine and law.”

Not only has the organization’s name changed to Portland Youth Dance, its commitment to an inclusive and welcoming dance environment has grown to include an outreach program and scholarships.

“Portland Youth Dance has been responsive to the needs of the community and provides space and support to serve company members and also share with others,” said Alexandra James, a founding member and former artistic director.

Artistic Director Kate Marchessault said, “I’m so touched by the number of former students – and the parents of former students – who came tonight.”


Returning company members included Zack Betty, who performed a romantic contemporary dance with his husband, Nick Neagle. Together, they direct NSquared Dance, a professional company based in Manchester, New Hampshire.

“Portland Youth Dance was a place for me to grow as an artist, as a dancer and as a human and a platform for me to continue my dance education,” Betty said.

Charlotte Doughty of Falmouth joined Portland Youth Dance when she was 9 and stayed “as long as possible” – until she was 18.

“Portland Youth Dance has always been welcoming,” she said. “It’s about inclusivity and body positivity.”

Erin Giwer, senior program director at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maine, talked about the clubs’ partnership with Portland Youth Dance. “We get to see our members explore the world of dance and performing arts with professionals who know how to meet them where they are,” she said.

Over a quarter of a century, Portland Youth Dance has provided free classes for 3,500 young Mainers and awarded $120,000 in scholarships. To keep that momentum going, the gala raised $11,000 through ticket sales, a silent auction and event sponsors, including Unum, Tandem Coffee Roasters, Casco Bay Movers, Lone Pine Brewing Co., Paris Farmers Union, Soul Space Collective Healing and Portside Real Estate Group/Kate Kerkam.


Another fun way to support Portland Youth Dance is by going to The Exchange. Portland Youth Dance Community Programs Director Elizabeth Lau founded this annual event in 2013 to help young Maine dancers understand the culture of hip-hop, which she says happens best when the music is blaring and dancers are popping, locking, waving and tutting in a conversation or exchange.

Check it out at noon March 3 at Blue Waves basketball gym at 631 Stevens Ave., Portland. Admission is $7 to battle, $12 to watch, with proceeds supporting dance scholarships and community programming. For tickets, go to Intermediate and advanced dancers can also register for an 11 a.m. master class with award-winning hip-hop choreographer Devin Woolridge ($25).

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at


This story was updated at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 20 to correct the name of a Portland Youth Dance member.

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