On Friday, October 18, dancer and dance educator Russell Baker, a member of Vassar College class of 1991, will receive the Alumnae/i Association of Vassar College (AAVC) 2019 Spirit of Vassar Award.
Baker, the Executive Director of the National Dance Institute (NDI) of New Mexico, is a firm believer in the education and enrichment of children. The NDI works to help children “develop discipline, a standard of excellence, and a belief in themselves that will carry over into all aspects of their lives.”
While pursuing his bachelor’s degree in English from Vassar, Baker began dancing and received his master of fine arts degree in ballet teaching and choreography from the University of Utah. Baker danced professionally with the Kansas City Ballet for 10 years, performing a variety of principal, soloist, corps de ballet, and character roles.
At the same time, he taught ballet at many schools, including the Kansas City Ballet School, and choreographed dances for a wide range of dancers and many venues in the Kansas City area. Baker attended NDI New Mexico’s Teaching Excellence training program in 2001 and taught with Kansas City Ballet’s Reach Out and Dance residency program prior to moving to Santa Fe.
Baker served as NDI New Mexico’s artistic director before being appointed executive director in 2008. Under his tenure, NDI New Mexico has served thousands of children and expanded programs, facilities, and staff. He has received much recognition and many awards for his work.
The Spirit of Vassar Award is presented to alumnae/i who have demonstrated extraordinary and distinguished leadership, contributions, and commitment to serving a community in which they effect positive, transformative societal change. This contribution may have been made through the recipient's career, community work, or volunteer service. The award recognizes the values of service and civic responsibility that are fundamental to a Vassar education.
Sharon Davidson Chang, a member of Vassar’s class of 1984 and AAVC’s Alumnae/i Recognition Committee Chair, said the committee wanted to honor Baker for “his unwavering commitment to youth development.
“Russell has helped to build an organization that has the power to change children’s lives—and the effects extend beyond dance,” she noted. “Those who engage in NDI programs show marked increases in writing, math, reading, and science skills. And they score, on average, one grade higher than other students in their district. The results speak for themselves.”
While on campus, Baker will engage in conversation with John Meehan, Professor and Chair of Dance on the Frances D. Fergusson Chair and Director of the Vassar Repertory Dance Theater. Titled “Moving and Shaking: Arts Education and Social Change,” the event will be held on Thursday, October 17, from 5:00 to 6:00pm in the Jade Parlor, Main Building, and is free and open to the public.
On Friday, October 18, Baker will hold a workshop for local students with the Center for Creative Education of Kingston, NY, which shares NDI’s goal of enriching the social and cultural awareness of the local youth and community through arts, wellness, and education.