David Ward: Seabury’s Dance Director
By Sarah Ruppenthal
Before he was a professional dancer, a teacher once told David Ward that he should reach for the stars.
It was solid advice.
Ward says it was not just one, but four teachers who ignited his creative spark—and he remembers their names: Michael Snider, Mary Folberg, Lynn Simonson and Brian Biggs. “My teachers brought me to love the arts, dance and theater to such a degree that I would not be here without them,” he says, “and I hope that I am that kind of teacher.”
Today, as the director of dance at Seabury Hall, Ward is not only that kind of teacher, it’s also likely that his own students will pay homage to him someday, too.
And it’s easy to see why.
Since he arrived at the school in 1988, Ward has shared his lifelong passion for dancing, directing and choreographing with students and faculty members alike. With his charismatic demeanor and ubiquitous smile, it’s no surprise that he’s a source of inspiration for generations of Seabury Hall students.
Not to mention, he’s got some serious moves.
The Portland, Ore., native says he caught the “performing bug” in the third grade, when he was cast as a wedding ringbearer in a production of Cinderella. It was his first time on stage—but certainly not the last.
It would be nearly impossible to encapsulate his remarkable career in just a few short paragraphs, but over the years, Ward has graced stages in Hawai‘i, across the mainland and abroad as a choreographer, performer, teacher, producer, presenter and advocate for the creative arts.
He’s also scooped up his fair share of accolades along the way. In 2006, Ward took center stage at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center for a mesmerizing farewell stage performance called “Dancing Through Life: A Choreographic Retrospective.” Three years later, Hawai‘i Gov. Ben Cayetano selected Ward as the recipient of the prestigious State Foundation on Culture and the Arts Individual Fellowship Award for his outstanding contributions to modern dance choreography.
“It was an incredible honor,” he recalls.
So, what’s on his dance card now? “Something very exciting,” Ward says, his face lighting up. “Something that has been bursting at the seams for years.”
This month, Seabury Hall will debut its A‘ali‘ikuhonua Creative Arts Center, an educational facility that will serve as a creative education center. “It’s not just for the performing arts,” Ward says. “The center will also host debates, school assemblies, musicals, lectures and festivals, and it will also be available to other schools or community groups on a limited basis.”
To some, performing arts is merely an extracurricular activity. But Ward disagrees. “It’s so much more than that,” he says. “With creative arts, kids thrive academically and stay involved.” Ward isn’t alone. An increasing number of studies show that fine arts programs balance a rigorous academic curriculum. It’s a holistic approach to education—and one that’s also a lot of fun.
Apparently, others see his point of view. So much in fact, that a group of very generous donors stepped forward to help get the A‘ali‘ikuhonua Creative Arts Center (literally) off the ground.
To celebrate the new center, Seabury Hall will host a “Reunite” Opening Gala on Friday, Sept. 28, and Saturday, Sept. 29, beginning at 7 p.m. Admission is $25 for adults, $20 for seniors and students. Admission includes complimentary desserts and beverages. The “Reunite” Opening Gala is billed as “an evening of music, dance, drama and art presented by honored alumni performers.”
“We called the event ‘Reunite’ as a way to pay respect to those who have demonstrated commitment to the creative arts: our students throughout the years,” says Ward. “It’s a focus on the alumni, going back to the class of 1968 to honor their hard work and show the world where we came from. It’s the beginning of a new era of creative arts at Seabury Hall, but you cannot move forward without being connected to the past.”
Ward says that more than a dozen Seabury alumni will return to Maui to perform during the Reunite Opening Gala. “We will have a professional show using people—architects, painters, photographers, potters and more—who came from here, and who are now out in the world showcasing their work on stage or otherwise.”
Ward says the evening will send an important message. “We are here because of you, so take pride,” he says. “This building is here because of you, your patience and your commitment.”