This month, the Voice sections will feature the nine YWCA Women of Achievement Award honorees.
When Sandra Olgard was 5 her parents took her to a “Romeo and Juliet” ballet performance in Seattle. She was captivated.
“My mom said I was sitting on the edge of my seat,” Olgard said.
She immediately started taking ballet lessons when she returned home to Spokane, enrolling in the Tessa Williams School of Classical Ballet, starting her lifelong journey in dance and dedication to her students that has earned her a YWCA Women of Achievement Award in arts and culture.
Olgard and eight other women will be honored at a luncheon Oct. 4 at the Davenport Grand Hotel.
Despite her love of dance, Olgard nearly quit when she was 11. “I broke my toe and I had just gotten my first pair of pointe shoes,” she said. “I thought I was so far behind.”
When she spoke to her teacher about quitting, Williams asked her to help teach the younger students. “It was a wonderful experience,” she said.
When she graduated from Ferris High School, Olgard didn’t feel drawn to college. “I tried out for a couple small ballet companies and everyone said, ‘You’re too tall, you’re too tall,’ ” she said.
Olgard is 6-foot-1-inch tall and dancing on pointe adds four inches to her height.
She enrolled in classes in Eastern Washington University and eventually her dance teacher recommended she go to Las Vegas and apply at the MGM Grand, where they liked tall dancers. She sent off her application and received a letter on a Monday inviting her to an audition the next Thursday. The next day Olgard announced to her college roommate that she was quitting school and going to live in Las Vegas.
The audition included ballet and jazz, and Olgard had no jazz dancing experience. She was offered a job, but told them she wanted three months to take jazz classes even though they were willing to hire her on the spot. “I really wanted to be prepared and feel confident,” she said.
After three months of study in Los Angeles, she took the job, performing two shows a day and three on Saturdays. She was noticed by the Lido in Paris and took a job there for a year and a half. But then she paused her career and came home despite an offer to dance for the Sun City Extravaganza in South Africa.
“I think I was burnt-out, to be honest,” she said. “I was really tired. I turned them down and came home to Spokane. Then I really missed my dancing.”
Sun City called again, and this time Olgard took the job. “I loved it,” she said. “I went on safaris. It was a beautiful country.”
When she finished that contract, she moved back to Spokane, married and had two daughters. But the marriage didn’t last. In 1987 she married her best friend, Bruce Olgard, whom she had known in high school. The couple added two more daughters to their family.
A year after her marriage she opened Sandra Olgard’s Studio of Dance, following the dream she first had at age 5 when she would come home from ballet class and teach her dolls what she had learned, a dream she nurtured as a teenager attending Spokane Symphony concerts.
“I can remember just sitting there choreographing in my head to the music,” she said.
Her first year as a teacher she had 15 students and put on her first show at Jefferson Elementary. Since then she’s taught thousands of children and currently has about 200 students enrolled. “Everything unfolds how it’s supposed to,” she said.
Though a few of her students have gone on to professional dance careers, Olgard says that’s not her goal.
“My goal is just to give attention to each one of the children and help them find the joy of dance,” she said. “I hope to instill good posture and give them some confidence in themselves and something they can call their own.”
She follows the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus and is careful to keep her classes age appropriate and not push her students to do things before they are ready. She also doesn’t participate in competitions, but does allow the students who want to take exams.
“I like that because then they compete with themselves,” she said.
Every year her students put on a show that she has adapted to include dancers of all ages and abilities. This year her students will perform “Sleeping Beauty.”
It is her all-encompassing love of dance that has fueled Olgard, now 60, during her career. “I think it just speaks to the soul,” she said.
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