Slice of Life: Arts center dance program director loves Lawrence diversity

Candi Baker is dance program director at the Lawrence Arts Center.

If Candi Baker hadn’t feared childhood dental visits, her talent and passion for dance and gift of encouragement to thousands of blossoming dancers over the years may have been lost to the community.

The Lawrence Arts Center’s dance program director loved listening to radio music and dancing around her childhood home in Iowa.

“I’d jump and twirl on and off the couch and chairs, and dance around the floor as I dusted the furniture,” she says.

“I was also terrified of the dentist, so Mom promised if I’d go she’d pay for dance lessons. Later she would say it was the most expensive dentist bill ever.”

At her first class, at age 12, in Shirley Beaulieu’s basement studio, she was hooked.

“Shirley truly inspired me,” she says.

“She encouraged me to teach younger students. She and her husband, Terry, later opened the largest dance studio in Sioux City that founded and directed Siouxland Civic Ballet Company.”

After graduating from Central High School in Sioux City, Baker attended Iowa State University. Despite spending most of her time in the dance studio (with dance professor Betty Toman), she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English with minors in math and dance in 1968, married and moved to California when her husband, Paul, enrolled at Stanford University.

While he completed his MBA, Baker taught seventh-grade English, took innumerable master dance classes and studied with various inspirational San Francisco dance artists.

In 1971, she graduated from Mills College, Oakland, with an master’s in dance and, after the birth of two daughters, opened and ran a dance movement studio in Burlingame, Calif.

When Paul was offered a job opportunity in Lawrence shortly after her father’s death, they decided to move closer to family.

“While I miss the ocean, we’ve never regretted our decision,” she says.

“We love Lawrence’s diverse population, its rich and wonderful arts opportunities, the strong school system our daughters attended and the downtown.”

She started teaching 10 dance classes at the arts center in 1984, became education director in 1985, started the touring modern dance company Prairie Wind Dancers in 1987 and performed and toured with the company — in addition to teaching at the arts center — until 2004.

“I retired from the company partly because the two jobs were too much and because my body was aging, and I wasn’t able to move as well,” she explains.

Today, as dance program director, Baker works closely with the center’s executive director and the education, theater and exhibition staff members to provide the best dance program possible. Her responsibilities include setting the philosophy and structure of the center’s nearly 70 weekly dances classes, hiring teachers, overseeing in-house dance performances, teacher training and choreography.

“Dance is a way of expressing dreams, ideas and hope through the human body and emotion,” Baker says.

“I still love helping create performances. The analytical part of my brain enjoys putting together all the pieces and seeing it happen. My biggest joy over the years has been watching the little ones grow into wonderful dancers by the time they go on to college and beyond.”