GILLETTE, NJ - The dancers from Starstruck Dance Studio learned lessons in improvisation on July 18 when they performed in their annual end-of- year recital. Like most traditions and milestone events in our country right now, things ran quite differently than in years past. Normally, the dancers’ backdrop is infused with colorful lights highlighting their leaps and turns. However, because of restrictions related to Covid-19, their backdrop was a pastoral scene of bird-inhabited meadows, towering trees, and bright blue skies. And thanks to the generosity of Wagner Farm Arboretum, the show did go on.
Wagner Farm Arboretum (WFA), was established in 2004 as a non-profit organization whose mission is to enrich, educate, and inspire the community by increasing environmental awareness and recreational opportunities. Formerly owned and operated by the Wagner Family as a dairy farm from 1917-1987, the land was purchased by Warren Township using Open Space Funding. Since the township requires Wagner Farm Arboretum to be a self-funded tenant, the non-profit raises operational monies through the sale of memberships, rental of garden plots, and their annual “Bright Nights” event that showcases illuminated carved pumpkins and a haunted barn. The funds support three environmentally friendly programs.
The Community Garden is where members can nurture their green thumbs by growing organic vegetables and flowers in their personal rented garden plots. There’s also the Children’s Garden which serves as an outdoor classroom, inviting kids to learn about native plants, birds, and insects. The third garden, aptly named the Giving Garden, is seeded, grown, tended, and harvested by volunteers from early spring through autumn. The harvested vegetables are then donated to local food banks, kitchens, and missions to combat hunger. In 2019, the Giving Garden yielded 6,000 pounds of produce used to help feed people in need. According to WFA Board President Jonathan Jeans, the organization which began with zero dollars, has grown into a space that accurately reflects the motto “The Garden State.” Jeans' passion for organic gardening began in the 1960’s when he read the book “Stalking the Wild Asparagus.” Today, in addition to leading the volunteer- comprised WFA Board, he gardens and makes his own chokecherry jam.
Jeans and fellow board member, Kat Britt were instrumental in making the end-of-year dance recital a reality for dancers, teachers, and family members of Starstruck Dance Studio. “We are so grateful to Wagner Farm Arboretum for allowing us the opportunity to showcase our dancers and celebrate their hard work this season,” said studio owner and Artistic Director, Nancina Bucci. “We never gave up or gave in, to the challenges created by the pandemic.”
Caia Rossi has been dancing at StarStruck Dance Studio since she was 3 years old. Now, a rising senior on the competitive dance team, she reflected on this year’s recital. Despite challenges which included outside temperatures in the 90’s and last minute choreography changes to accommodate social distancing guidelines, Rossi exclaimed, “We pulled it off and had to keep going.” When asked what lesson she took away from this unconventional recital staged on a former dairy farm, Rossi did not hesitate in her response… “The show must go on!”
For graduating senior, Francesca Ellis, the recital marked an end to her 11-year experience as a Starstruck Dancer. “It didn’t really hit me that it was my last time dancing for Starstruck, until the moment I grabbed my graduation cap used in my senior piece.” Dancing solo made her “swan song” performance all the more memorable. “After experiencing a cut-off senior year of all the things I loved, I was so grateful for Ms. Nancina and the rest of the Starstruck staff for giving their all in providing our recital. We brought the stage outside… it was the perfect goodbye.”