A medley of talents makes it difficult to fit dancer Rick Clark into any kind of a mold. On his four and a half acre farm in Havana he raises, trail rides, and cares for his horses, Lacy and Tiny. By day he works in the Invasive Plant Management division at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, controlling exotic plants that overpopulate the landscape.
His evenings and weekends, however, are dedicated to the inside of a dance studio.
Clark has been a company member of Tallahassee’s Pas de Vie Ballet for nearly 20 years, and he simultaneously teaches adult classes in country western and ballroom dancing. He took second place in the United Country Western Dance Circuit’s World Championships with his dance partner, Seah Hagan, also a member of Pas de Vie.
Actively training to take first place, they go from four hours of country western rehearsal straight into Nutcracker rehearsals. Pas de Vie Ballet’s Nutcracker kicks off its holiday show over the Thanksgiving weekend.
“In the same day usually I go from white tights and ballet shoes to my jeans and boots,” says Clark. “The competition judges always say if you ever want to get to the elite divisions in country western dance you have to have a ballet background to master the poise and arm lines. My and Seah’s ballet background really make us stand out because we’re so used to partnering each other, though the hardest part for us is to make our country dance not look too graceful or classical.”
In explaining the style, Clark says the only true difference between ballroom and country western dancing is that the latter is done with boots and a hat. Though the American impression of country dancing takes place in a nightclub or with line dancing, country western dance has standards similar to ballroom’s cha-cha and waltz, such as the two-step and polka. Out of the two divisions in the competition world, Clark and his partner compete in the showcase division, which allows aerial tricks and one-footed turns.
Though nowadays he’s completely immersed in the dance world, growing up in small town Chipola didn’t offer Clark many outlets for organized dance opportunities. He took up country western clogging, similar to tap dance, in high school and practiced martial arts for six years. After enrolling in his local college, Clark took up country western classes and fell in love with the form. He went on to pursue his master’s degree in biology at the University of South Alabama where he was exposed to classical ballet for the first time.
“I was dancing at a bar competition in Mobile where the [former] President of Mobile Ballet [Winthrop “Wink” Corey] was judging the competition,” recalls Clark. “He offered me free classes because they needed guys. I’d never even seen a ballet performance, but I started taking classes with the company and performing little light roles that just required fairly simplistic things like walking to counts.
Though Clark was 23 years old at the time of his first ballet class, he remembers dropping everything both socially and physically in his life in order to focus on improving on his technique.
He remains grateful for the encouragement of his first mentor, “Wink” who lit the spark of ballet within him. Clark appreciated how the now Artistic Director of the Mobile Ballet made it easy for any male who had an interest in ballet to come take classes.
Read the rest of the story
or visit the Tallahassee Democrat to read more here