Keeping the vision alive Tacoma urban performing arts center celebrates its first birthday

Photo courtesy of Tupac

This month marks exactly a year since the death of Kabby Mitchell III, who — along with Klair Ethridge — founded the Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center (TUPAC). The dance school is located downtown, at 734 Pacific Ave., and is primarily geared toward classical ballet, but there are also courses in other dance forms like West and Central African, Egyptian, Afro-Cuban, flamenco, liturgical, jazz and hip hop.

Mitchell, who was the first black dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB), died May 4, 2017, just as plans for the opening of TUPAC were drawing to completion (the school opened its doors in July.) Mitchell, just 60 years of age at the time of his death, was said to be passionate about TUPAC’s purpose as a place to train young dancers from underserved communities in the Tacoma area.

Now approaching its first birthday, TUPAC is moving forward, full steam ahead. Aspiring young dancers have a range of dance forms to choose from and courses are taught by world class instructors.  A 501(c)3, TUPAC offers classical ballet and multicultural dance instruction for children and teens ages 6-18 that aims to provide the discipline, the creativity and the confidence to reach their highest potential. The school aims to provide the most deserving, racially diverse youth with world-class opportunities to achieve artistic excellence in the performing arts. 

The school envisions a future where its students will be globally recognized as TUPAC artists by the content of their character, their poise, the generosity of their spirit and the phenomenal contributions they make to their communities and the planet.

Julie Tobiason, TUPAC ballet director and former principal dancer with PNB will mount the school’s first “Nutcracker.” (Auditions will be held in late August for December performances.)

Virginia Johnson, founding member and director of Dance Theatre of Harlem, taught TUPAC’s first day of ballet classes.

Most of the classes at the school are held at regular, weekly intervals. Following is a quick list of available classes and the instructors.

The Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center is bringing ballet and other dance forms to underserved youth right in the heart of downtown Tacoma. Photo courtesy of Tupac

Young Dancers Program I and II

Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays

Instructors: Julie Tobiason, Lynne Short and Erricka Turner-Davis

Tobiason is TUPAC’s ballet director, and a ballet instructor. She is from Lyndhurst, N. J. She studied ballet at the Studio Workshop and on scholarship at The School of American Ballet. Tobiason joined Chicago City Ballet in 1983 and then the Pacific Northwest Ballet in 1986, where she was promoted to principal dancer in 1992, under the direction of Francia Russell and Kent Stowell. Tobiason has danced many varied roles, which include Juliet, Swanhilda, Cinderella, Hermia, Agon and Jardi Tancat.

Tobiason has been a guest teacher, dancer and choreographer at various ballet schools and companies throughout the U.S. In addition, she has taught as master teacher for the Regional Dance America Festival, has worked as ballet master for PNB and in the PNB School Outreach program. She has taught as guest teacher at PNBS since 1996 and joined the faculty in 2002 teaching ages 7-adult and company classes. Her film work includes “Nutcracker the Movie,” the role of Hermia in the BBC production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” featured artist in the KCTS production of “Inside Pacific Northwest Ballet.”  

Kabby Mitchell III. Photo courtesy of Tupac

Turner is TUPAC’s co-multicultural dance director and a ballet instructor. She has performed with Poetry+Motion, 5th Avenue Theatre (“Hello Dolly”), Village Theatre (“Showboat”), Chamber Dance Company, Intiman Theatre (“Black Nativity,” “Mary,” “Angel”), Seattle Opera (“Un Ballo En Maschera,” “Rigoletto,” and “Florencia of the Amazons”), Sankofa Theatre (“Maafa Suite”), Oakland Ballet, and Spectrum Dance Theater. She is Miss October in Project Ensemble’s 2000 Black Ballerinas of the 20th Century Calendar. She received her BFA in ballet education with honors from The University of the Arts, Philadelphia, Penn., and her MFA in dance from The University of Washington, Seattle. She is a ballet, jazz, and creative movement instructor at Tacoma’s SOAR Academy. She has choreographed, taught, and lectured at numerous local schools and theaters. 

Short, TUPAC’s master ballet instructor, has recently relocated to the Pacific Northwest after spending 17 years in Texas. From 2013-17 she was a faculty member and rehearsal mistress at Chamberlain School of Ballet in Plano, Texas. Prior to that Short was the principal of Ballet Austin Academy, in Austin, Texas, from 2001-13. There she developed and honed a syllabus that has produced students and dancers who learn to realize the joy of working in a deep, thorough, meticulous way.

From 1984 to 2000, Short was a faculty member at Pacific Northwest Ballet School. During this time, and under the guidance of Francia Russell, director of PNBS, the ideas of dedicated colleagues with various backgrounds were formed into a unified, cohesive curriculum. Short danced professionally with the Memphis Ballet, Hartford Ballet, First Chamber Dance Company and Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Open Ballet Fusion with Heather Arneson

Wednesdays noon-1:15 p.m.

Through the artistry of Arneson, students enjoy a combination of ballet and Broadway jazz. This class emphasizes ballet and jazz techniques, musicality and performance. 

Arneson is a dancer, teacher, choreographer and actress, working mainly in the South Sound. She has been teaching dance for several years and has extensive training in ballet, contemporary, jazz, modern, and tap. Arneson is currently rehearsing for “The Nutcracker” with Ballet Northwest. Other dance credits include Handel’s “Messiah” and “The Nutcracker” with Ballet Bellevue, as well as performances with Katy Hagelin Dance Project and Relay Dance Collective. Her most recent stage credits include “Footloose” and “The Little Mermaid” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. Arneson holds a master’s in education and loves sharing her passion for the performing arts with the community.   

Liturgical with Vania Bynum

Wednesdays 5:30-6:45 p.m.

Bynum, TUPAC’s co-multicultural dance director, and liturgical instructor, is a dancer, teacher, and choreographer, whose calling is to enhance the life of others through her artistic gifts. Her work is described as commanding, emotionally evocative, and a lovely mix of balance and grace. Bynum hopes to inspire future dancers of all ages and increase the accessibility of dance through her passion for and dedication to the vitality of art in our community. She believes that dance is life! 

Bynum is a former computer engineer who utilizes the ingenuity of making software to create dance. A graduate of Cornish College of the Arts, Bynum has danced, taught and choreographed throughout the greater Seattle area, performing in venues from the renowned stages of the Paramount and Moore Theaters, Intiman Theatre, Benaroya Hall, the Meydenbauer Center, Renton Ikea Performing Arts Center, the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center and many local churches. She also performed in popular shows such as “The Black Nativity,” “Hip-Hop Back to Its Roots!,” “Dance This!,” and the Ballet Bellevue American Jazz “Nutcracker.” Other work includes choreography for the production of “Cats” (2009), produced by Broadway Bound Children’s Theatre, and several productions with the Northwest Tap Connection.  

Bynum was a featured dancer in Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center’s inaugural African American Master Choreographer series, featuring choreography by Kabby Mitchell, who described her performance as “a remarkable dance presence for the audience that was inspirational and a pleasure to behold.” 

West African with Etienne Capko and live drums by Yaw Amponsah

Tuesdays 7-8:30 p.m.

Love, joy, sorrow, courage and all other emotions are expressed through rhythmic movements. Every Tuesday, students of the class move the heart and soul through West African dance.  

Capko, TUPAC’s West African Instructor is originally from Benin, Capko is the director and lead choreographer of Gansango Music and Dance. He has been building his repertoire of traditional and modern dance for over thirty years. As Director of Gansango Music and Dance, Capko leads the company’s work with dozens of public libraries, schools and independent arts agencies locally and nationally to make performances of dance and music from Africa available to a wide range of audiences, including young children.

Open Afro Cuban Dance and Drumming with Arturo Rodriguez

Thursdays 7:30-8:30 p.m.

“Concepts in Rhythm” is about learning how to feel the rhythm in music in order to create spontaneous and unique counter rhythms. The course will focus on Afro-Cuban Bata, rumba, bembe and salsa styles. All drum and percussion instruments provided. The class is designed to develop and heighten your critical hearing skills. Critical hearing is required to understand all the different rhythms that are going on in any type or style of song.

Dancers and drummers will improve their understanding of rhythms like salsa, bachata, and afro Cuban styles like rumba, bembe and orisha. Students will learn to identify the son, rumba, afro, 6/8 clave patterns but also understand how dance works with in “La Clave.” Whether a beginner or a seasoned pro, these isolation exercises will improve your sense of timing, groove, and ability to improvise with in the music.

An accomplished musician, author, teacher, and DJ, Rodriguez has performed worldwide, sharing the stage with such music legends as Tito Puente, Dave Valentin, Paul Horn, Pete Escovedo, Brandi Carlile, Jason Mraz, Crosby, Stills and Nash and many more. Never one to stand still for very long, Rodriguez is both a familiar face and a powerful force on the local Seattle music scene. 

Rodriguez grew up in Los Angeles, in a household where his mother was a passionate mambo and salsa dancer, and his father was an avid conguero who played with the Hispanic Music Association and formed the group Salsa Express. They made certain music was integral to everyday family life. 

West and Central African dance

Fridays 7:30-9 p.m.

Fatimah is an African Dance Teacher with over 35 years of Western and Central African dance experience. She has taught and danced both nationally and internationally. Fatimah shares the rituals associated with the dances and guides her students in realizing the ancient connections with current life trends. Her legacy is to share the medicine of the dance and how it relates to everyday living, while creating a platform for cultural lifestyle strategies and socialization through the arts.

The Royal Court

July 9-Aug.17

In July, TUPAC will hold “The Royal Court,” a fairy tale dance camp for young dancers between the ages of 4 – 9.

TUPAC’s Summer Session runs between July 9th and August 17th for intermediate and advanced dancers ages 12 and up, as well as beginners and intermediate levels for children 6-11.

For more on TUPAC and course pricing, visit or

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