Dance Team Gets New Leader


Williston dancers have a new leader.

Since her start in the fall, Noel St. Jean Chevalier has been influential and vital to the Williston dance program. When Debra Vega, the previous director of the program for seven years, decided she wanted to pursue other avenues outside of Williston, she knew that St. Jean, a then guest artist of many years, was the only person she could see fitting the role perfectly. Sure enough, St. Jean took up the job, and in a few short months has made an indelible impact.

St. Jean started dancing at the age of three, and credits her passion to her hometown studio where she studied ballet, jazz, tap, and other styles. She felt very lucky to be exposed to technique from many renowned professional dancers at her studio from such a young age.

“One year, we got a new teacher who introduced us to modern dance,” she recalled. “I absolutely loved learning Graham technique.”

The teacher, St. Jean said, used to take her dance class to New York on school vacations to take classes at the Martha Graham school and Broadway Dance Center.

“Those classes we really challenging and I think they sparked my desire to become a teacher,” she said.

Many dancers can resonate with St. Jean when she said that her love of dance was triggered by an idolization and admiration for the older kids at her studio.

“My first memories all surround the recital experience,” she said. “The rehearsals, getting to see ‘the big girls’ perform after being class away from them all year … that was fun for me.”

St. Jean felt that her passion for choreographing started around six years old with her dramatic performances to Bruce Springsteen in the backyard of her apartment complex. She said that “making up and performing routines was my playtime. I continue that to this day.”

While St. Jean loved to choreograph and dance from a young age, she also felt inspired to teach.

“I always liked explaining parts of a combination or breaking down choreography. I really enjoyed making dances in high school for the Dance Club, and that offered me a chance to really dive in and create work on my peers,” she said. “It was a fun challenge to find the right ways to explain movement to get my desired effect.”

St. Jean had been a guest artist at Williston previously and had choreographed for the Williston stage before she took on the role of director. The progression is similar to that of Debra Vega, who acted as a guest artist for many years before taking on the primary role of dance director. St. Jean’s longstanding relationship with the program meant many students were already familiar with her and were very excited for her to take on the position.

“I wish I could have experienced Noel in the capacity of dance director before I graduated,” said class of 2021 alum and former Dance captain Jillian Dietz. “I loved working with Noel when she was a guest artist.”

St. Jean shared that while it was nice to come in already knowing some familiar faces, her experience as guest and as director were drastically different.

“It’s very different to work within the context of the program, when I was used to creating one piece and then returning to see it performed,” she said. “I have enjoyed the opportunity to explore what the director’s role has been and to receive support to help make it more in line with my pedagogy and vision.”

St. Jean had a strong idea of what she wanted to bring into the program and what she wanted to change or adjust.

“[I am] exploring ways to address the desires expressed to me by the students: more coaching on the choreographic process, a cohesive training program, a variety of styles to work in and guests who support that.”

One on the biggest changes she made was to create a schedule which incorporated intensive technique training and classes, something that had fallen between the cracks due to the highly stressful and short seven-week dance show preparation process in the fall and spring. This addition allowed dancers to explore beyond simply learning choreography and to establish a strong foundation for all students to grow from.

Jillian felt the absence of technique training was one of the biggest things lacking from the program, and wishes she could have experienced the new classes.

“If we were able to take class we would all grow together and share similar basic skills, we would also connect more as a team” Jillian said.

“There are a few words that come to mind when describing the prep school experience: rigor, excellence, versatility. I think dancers strive for all three,” said St. Jean.

“My favorite part [of the Williston dance program] is the students. The dance ensemble is a welcoming, free spirited, creative group” she said. “The dancers recognize the value in individual talents each one bring me to the group and they also work together to dance with one heart”.

St. Jean continued: “Having bright energetic souls to work with makes my work not feel like work!”

She believes that many of life’s skills are taught through dance and that we can become better people when we carry the tools we learn in the studio with us into the rest of the world.