Broadway veteran Elisa Van Duyne teaches dance in Vergennes

VERGENNES — You just never know when you’ll catch the theater bug. For Elisa Van Duyne it happened when she was in third grade.
“My mom took me to see Bob Fosse’s ‘Dancing’ — it was my first Broadway show,” remembered Van Duyne, who’d been dancing since she was four and a half. “After the show, I remember, I turned to my mom and said: ‘Mom, I’m going to be on that stage someday.’”
And sure enough, she was.
More than once too. Van Duyne was in four Broadway shows over nine years. She also played in 62 musicals for Regional and Stock theater; choreographed shows professionally in Montana, New Jersey, Florida and Toronto; went on national and European tours; was filmed on TV shows like “The Today Show,” “The David Letterman Show” and “As the World Turns.” The list goes on… To put it simply, Van Dunne “made it.”
What’s it like?
“Oh my God, it’s amazing,” she said in a recent interview. “It’s a thrill — a real dream come true. From 2001-2005, when I played in my first Broadway show, ‘42nd Street,’ I was in this awesome, elite community; we got to see other Broadway shows for free, we’d go out between shows, meet directors, I’d buy these fancy dresses and wear them to opening, preview and Christmas parties for different shows… it was glamorous.”
Hard work too. Van Duyne was only on stage 25-30 hours a week, which may seem like a breeze, but the competition is fierce. So she, like all the other actors, would take voice, dance and acting classes to stay on top of their skills; network with casting directors; and maintain their professional websites.
“When you’re hot you’re hot, and then you have to move on to the next thing,” said Van Dunne, who moved with her husband (Vergennes Union High and University of Vermont grad Jeremy Palmer) and their two sons from New York to Monkton in the fall. “The reality is that now, as a Caucasian woman in her 40s, there aren’t a lot of jobs for me in New York City.”
So what’s a girl with a theater and dance bug gonna do here in Addison County?
Why teach a musical theater and dance class for kids, why not?
Enter (stage left) Jen Barden, owner of Spotlight Vermont. Some of us (ahem, like me) might remember Barden (formerly Laberge) when she used to teach dance for the Middlebury Rec Department back in the early ’90s. (I took jazz and tap, by the way.)
“I had lived in Vergennes for a year, and had always thought it would be fun to start dance classes there,” said Barden, who runs her performing arts school out of a studio in South Burlington; classes are also held at Middlebury Fitness. “When I met Elisa over the summer, I knew I had the right person to start classes in Vergennes.”
The first classes were held at the Vergennes Opera House in February, and 48 students turned up.
“We were just testing the waters,” Barden said. “And we’ve received so much great feedback. We’re hoping to make it a regular thing in the fall.”
BROADWAY PROFESSIONAL ELISA Van Duyne, who recently moved from New York to Monkton, poses with one of her first classes at Vergennes Opera House in March. 
Courtesy photo
The next Spotlight Vermont sessions in Vergennes start on April 16 and run Tuesdays through May 28. Classes include ballet, creative movement and musical theater (Broadway Jr., and Broadway for Teens), for ages 3 1/2 to 18 years old.
“The best way to ensure the sustainability of an arts center like the Vergennes Opera House is to create opportunities for the young community to be engaged in the arts center,” said Gerianne Smart, president of the Friends of the Vergennes Opera House. “Having Spotlight Vermont in our space working with kids ages 3 through high school is a bull’s-eye for our mission… These classes filled a need we didn’t even know that we had. I can see this being something that continues on.”
“The arts community has been fantastic here,” Van Duyne added. “Gerianne and the Vergennes Opera House have been so supportive of bringing more cultural performance opportunities to our community.”
Still… it’s not quite the same as Broadway.
“It’s been a culture shift for sure,” said Van Duyne, who’s hung up those glamorous dresses and pulled on some mud boots. “I’m missing the cultural diversity of the city. Here, you’re definitely held accountable for your actions — like your hairdresser’s daughter is also your baby sitter… It’s a very good life lesson.”
Interested in learning from Van Duyne? Sign up for the spring session now at spotlightvermont.com, call (802) 865-7626 or email [email protected].

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