Brooke Kuhl-McClelland

Hammond High School dance teacher Brooke Kuhl-McClelland watches her class rehearse. (Staff photo by Sarah Pastrana / March 13, 2012)

Most of Brooke Kuhl-McClelland's day is spent in a dance studio at Hammond High School. When this veteran dance teacher's students give a public performance, she prefers to be off to the side watching as they bask in the applause.

Well, now the spotlight and the applause will be for the teacher. Kuhl-McClelland's career has earned her one of the four Howie Awards to be handed out at the 15th annual "Celebration of the Arts in Howard County" on Saturday, March 24 in the Peter and Elizabeth Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College.

"I teach life through dance. It's not just teaching dance steps, but teaching them cooperation, self-esteem and a whole lot of other skills they need in life," Kuhl-McClelland says with characteristic enthusiasm. "I have kids that say to me that dance is what makes them want to come to school. Parents say if only they could get their kids to do their math homework, but they do the dance."

When this 47-year-old dance teacher started at Hammond High School in 1989, she only had two students. She has 155 students now. As the dance program at her school grew, the size of the dance staff did not. This full-time dance teacher not only heads the dance program, but is the dance program.


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"When I have a department meeting, I am a solitary island unto myself," she laughs, adding that having one full-time dance teacher per school is the norm for county high schools.

She loves to introduce the students to dance styles including classical ballet, modern, jazz, tap and African, with all of their dance moves being done to her original choreography.

When her students aren't performing at school, they participate in events that include an annual Howard County dance festival whose site alternates between high schools, as well as an annual trip that the Hammond dance troupe makes to Disney World in Florida.

Kuhl-McClelland, who was named Howard County Teacher of the Year in 2006-2007, traces her lifelong love of dance to the early training she received at middle and high schools near her childhood home in Cockeysville in Baltimore County. She received her undergraduate degree in dance from Towson University.

Besides dance, she also has a strong interest in sports. Kuhl-McClelland is the lacrosse coach at St. Paul's School for Girls, and formerly coached that same sport at Mt. Hebron High School.

Although her current after-school lacrosse coaching job is a short drive from her home in Lutherville, her full-time job teaching dance at Hammond involves a longer drive that is by now second nature to her. Baltimore County's government may collect her taxes, but she says that when she crosses the Patapsco River and enters Howard County, "I always feel that is home to me."

Indeed, her Howie Award as the Outstanding Arts Educator essentially certifies her as one of Howard County's own.

While Kuhl-McClelland may be making one of the longest drives to attend this annual Celebration of the Arts, she'll hardly be the only one in the spotlight.

Other award winners

"The Celebration first and foremost puts a spotlight on homegrown talent, and it also raises money," says Coleen West, executive director of the Howard County Arts Council. She adds that she expects 500 people to attend this year's event, and hopes to raise $75,000. Proceeds will be split between the arts council and the Horowitz center.

The Howie Awards are but one part of an evening filled with food, entertainment, a silent art auction and a Rising Star Competition. Honorary Chairs for the event are Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and his wife, Jaki; the event's emcee is Richard W. Story.

Besides Kuhl-McClelland, the other recipients of the arts achievement-celebrating Howie Awards are composer, conductor and musician Dr. Tom Benjamin as Outstanding Artist; Mays and Associates as Outstanding Business Supporter of the Arts; and John Taylor, known to all as "The Kinderman," who is the recipient of a special Legacy in the Arts award.

Longtime Columbia resident Tom Benjamin has been a presence for decades in both Baltimore City and Howard County musical activities. The former Baltimore resident taught at the Peabody Institute from 1987 until his retirement in 2007, but he moved from Baltimore to Columbia while still teaching at Peabody. The 72-year-old composer explains that he wanted to live near the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, where he has been music director and minister of music for 22 years.

"I moved out here because it was exciting to see the possibilities of Columbia, and as a place to do great things with the ministry," Benjamin recalls.

He notes that it also has been a pleasure to watch how various musical organizations have "really blossomed" during the past several decades, citing groups that include the Columbia Orchestra, Columbia Pro Cantare, Candlelight Concert Society, Toby's Dinner Theatre, and the music program at Howard Community College.

The 300 compositions that Benjamin has written during his career include some that have been performed locally. Last October, Columbia Pro Cantare performed Benjamin's "Old Brick Church" to commemorate the 200th birthday of the original church building at Christ Episcopal Church in Columbia.

Ironically, Benjamin's professionally active schedule will prevent him from picking up his Howie Award in person. He plays tenor saxophone and clarinet with his Unitarian church-based jazz sextet, the Chalice Messengers, which has a March 24 gig at the church.

"I feel terrible about missing it," Benjamin says about an honor that means a lot to him. He's quick to humbly observe of this award: "It's not about me, but about the healthiness of the arts in Howard County."

No stranger to appearing on stage is another Howie recipient, John Taylor, a dance teacher and entertainer whose bowler hat-topped, perpetually smiling "Kinderman" persona is known to generations of Howard County residents.

"I love performing and I always come up with something new," says Taylor, who estimates that he has taught 70,000 people at village centers, schools and other venues in Howard County since moving from Baltimore to Columbia in 1971. Thanks to Kinderman, Howard County residents know how to do everything from the Lindy to the Hustle. Indeed, he even taught dance to Columbia founder James Rouse back in the 1970s.

Taylor diplomatically states that Rouse "wasn't a dancer, but he was very gracious. I had a saying that I could make everybody feel they were a disco king."

Rouse was hardly the only Kinderman-trained disco king, because Taylor performed around 500 shows a year nationally and internationally for many years. He's now 75 years old, but still does around 100 shows a year.

The Celebration of the Arts in Howard County is Sat., March 24, 6-10 p.m., at the Peter and Elizabeth Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Tickets for this black tie optional event are $100 and $50. Call 410-313-2787 or go to http://www.info@hocoarts.org.