SANTA BARBARA’S DANCE AND ART POWERHOUSE

JULIE MCLEOD

I started the SBdancesugar.com site to give the Santa Barbara dance community a place to share dance information, to collaborate, and to provide each other with support.  For my lofty plans to work, however, I needed engagement and cooperation from the folks who make dance happen here on the Central Coast.

The next step was clear: I had to reach out to the dance scene’s heavy hitters. So I made a list of all the usual suspects and ran it by my dance instructor (and long-time Santa Barbara dancer) Sharyn Chan-Namnath. I was halfway through reading the names when she interrupted me: “If your site’s going to be legitimate, you need Julie McLeod.” 

Of course.  Everyone who’s anyone in dance knows Julie McLeod. And if you’re like me, her name triggers a host of associated memories: She studied with Martha Graham, Jose Limon, and Anthony Tudor (amongst others), danced in the original Broadway company of West Side Story, toured with Yul Brynner in King and I, danced side-by-side with dance and stage legends like Eddie Villella and Chita Rivera, owned Dance Warehouse (the epicenter for Santa Barbara dance instruction for two decades), and served as the long-time Executive Director of Santa Barbara Dance Alliance... 

Sharyn was right. If I needed a heavy hitter, Julie was my Babe Ruth. 

So I wrote to her. And to my absolute delight, she wrote back. 

In the email exchanges that followed, I got to know a whole lot more about Julie. More importantly, I started to understand just how essential she has been, and still is, to Santa Barbara.

I won’t rehash Julie’s bio and past accomplishments here (if you care to be dumbfounded with awe and respect, click here). Suffice it to say that she has had an amazing career and that her wisdom, leadership and tenacity have sculpted virtually every aspect of our dance community. She has advocated tirelessly for all artists and has touched and influenced every Santa Barbara dance instructor, dance studio, performance venue and audience member in some way. I dare you to find an exception.

But what impressed me the most (and I was already really impressed) was learning more about Julie’s current mission: Art Without Limits (AWoL). Keep your eyes on this one, folks. This just might end up being the most important role of Julie’s career.

Art Without Limits is a non-profit organization (founded in 2009) that empowers promising Santa Barbara County artists by providing free, intensive one-on-one mentorships with established arts professionals, as well as workshops designed to give our artists the practical skills they need for a successful career in the arts today. As an accomplished artist and businesswoman, Julie is uniquely placed to understand just how much the next generation of artists is going to need our support and guidance to survive, grow and thrive in an increasingly market-driven world. Under her stewardship, Art Without Limits will be cultivating and elevating Santa Barbara's coming generations of dancers and artists. I will be posting more about Art Without Limits in the coming weeks – stay tuned!

Thank you so much, Julie, for your tireless work, advocacy, and leadership, and for your commitment to making sure art and creativity continue to bless our lives.

P.S. Here's Julie in action at the West Side Story Reunion -- best footage starts 7:00 in.  (Hint: She's the beauty in green.)