The Western Reserve Academy Dance Program presents “Happiness Is,” as their winter dance performance in the Knight Fine Arts Center.

Friday, Dec. 1, at 8 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 2, at 8 p.m.

Admission is free with open seating.


As established by the 1966 Ray Conniff ballad-turned-Etsy jingle, happiness is “...different things, to different people!” When asked what makes the Reserve student happy, you get just about the same sentiment. It’s a game of volleyball, a hot cup of coffee, the lovable pets who greet them at the door. It’s friends and family — it’s holidays at home or adventures abroad — it’s a rainy day with a good book.

At the start of this school year, WRA Dance Director Katie Velbeck and Assistant Dance Director Ali Anzaldi ’13 asked their students to ponder the philosophical question — what is happiness to you? As the student-dancers answered the prompt, they unknowingly set the table for the Winter Dance Performance “Happiness Is,” a celebration and exploration of all that brings us comfort and joy.

Every piece in the program is inspired by their input and matched with music that fits the theme. Even “coffee” (a popular answer) came together quickly, with choreography designed alongside Frank Sinatra’s “The Coffee Song,” featuring a coffee station on stage and coffee cups in hand as the dancers express the joy of java.

Queen’s “You’re My Best Friend,” will accompany a choreographed love letter to pets. As Freddy Mercury croons about those who are our sunshine, who make us live now honey — you can’t help but wonder if it's the dancers singing to their pets or our own pets singing back to us. And most adorably, at the finale of this number, there will be a projection of the dancers’ animal friends at home — a cute collage of cats, dogs, even a pig!

You’ll see pieces about helping others, dreams, summertime, karma, even dancing (very fitting, for this group!)

“Some of the answers were really cute — someone actually wrote down ‘Building a Snowman,’ which is such a great answer,” shared Velbeck. “We paired that one with the song ‘Snowman’ by Sia.”

Tied together by a central theme, this performance will be an exciting and eclectic program of jazz, contemporary ballet, modern and more, with a special opener to set the stage. As mentioned earlier, it’s no coincidence that the show shares the same name as the Ray Conniff song, “Happiness Is.” As the curtain opens, audience members will hear a reimagined version of the single, performed by Alex Newman ’24, Kian Kischke ’24 and Cameran Tepper ’25.

“I’m really excited about this one!” said Anzaldi. “[Fine & Performance Arts Department faculty member] Ed Leonard helped us create an instrumental version of the song, and I rewrote the lyrics to be about Reserve. So you’ll hear, ‘To the dancers… It's a show, show, show! To the Lax team… It’s a game, game, game! To the teachers, it’s sum-mer break!’ And so on!”

This playful riff and the many other easter eggs (such as the dancers bringing in their favorite book for “Rainy Day with a Good Book,") are some of the things that elevate a stunning dance performance to a magical experience for both audience and dancers. And we like to think it’s this sincere joy and creativity that Anzaldi and Velbeck bring to their dance program that keeps it such a popular offering at Reserve, with nearly a fourth of the student body enrolled.

As the performers begin their first day of Tech Week, there is both growing excitement and no small amount of nerves as they see the whole show come together for the first time.

“It’s always a little scary at first for the dancers to perform in front of their peers,” said Velbeck. “But by Thursday, we always feel a lot better and more confident. I know they’re going to be great. And what I love is hearing how excited they already are for their friends to see them perform!”

As are we! Happiness may be many things, but what it absolutely includes is the joy of a standing ovation and thunderous applause after a semester of hard work and dedication. And what a joy it will be in turn to sit in this feeling, to reflect on happiness and to see it performed live by our talented dancers.

Break a leg, Pioneers!