Will Kana, home from The Big Apple for the Christmas holiday, has ties to The Big Apple here in Columbia and also to New York City, where he now makes his home.
Kana was a student at Hand Middle School in 2002, younger than the minimum age set for an August dance workshop at The Big Apple at 1000 Hampton, originally the Jewish synagogue, Beth Shalom. The dance workshop was a prelude to Historic Columbia’s Jubilee Festival.
“I remember making an allowance for Will to participate in the Lindy Hop weekend because he was so enthusiastic,” said Richard Durlach who, with his partner Breedlove, organized the Lindy Hop workshop for Historic Columbia.
When Historic Columbia sold The Big Apple in 2015, these partners formed an LLC in order to purchase the landmark. The partners continue to rent the striking building, bigappledance.com, for special events such as weddings, receptions, family reunions, and music or dance events.
The Big Apple Dance was performed there in the late 1930s. White dancers snuck in, leaned over the former synagogue’s upstairs railing to watch and learn the steps Black dancers were doing. When the dance craze swept the nation, the white dancers were invited to New York City to exhibit the dance.
Connections between The Big Apple in Columbia, and New York City, nicknamed The Big Apple, were repeated that workshop weekend. The Lindy Hop was taught by the ambassador of the dance, (the late) Frankie Manning, a fabled New York dancer with familial ties to South Carolina.
By that time, Kana already had been taking lessons with Columbia Ballet School since 1998 where his teachers and influences were Anita Ashley, Cindy Flach, and Terrance Henderson.
“A teacher giving some classes there told me Oklahoma City University was a great school for students aspiring for a career on the musical theatre stage, such as on Broadway,” Kana recalled.
His training at Columbia Ballet School opened the door to Kana’s admission at Oklahoma City University (OCU). Four years at Dreher High School, with Jeanette Arvay as drama teacher and theatre director, plus roles in community theatre all added to his experience.
“The professors OCU were great, had very different teaching styles, so I have a well-rounded education,” Kana said. He graduated, took a little time off for travel, and headed to The Big Apple. And began auditioning.
“I was the first in my graduating class to get started in New York, but I had no connections, nobody to open doors for me. It hasn’t been as easy as I had hoped,” Lumpkin admitted. “I now know all the places to check for Open Casting calls, and certainly have gotten to dance in The Big Apple, but the process can be discouraging,” said Lumpkin, who posts at least weekly to his blog, thewolfandtheworld.com.
“Ultimately, I found other interests to pursue and have given myself a break from auditioning. I’d been told many times I should do some modeling, so just before coming home for Christmas, I signed with a model agency.”
Kana’s ambitions to dance persist. Continuation with dance lessons “depends on who’s teaching,” and he stays fit by hitting to the gym a few times a week.
Back home for the holidays, Kana realizes he has had his foot in The Big Apple for longer than he realized, and in more ways than one. Kana recalled dancing at the local Big Apple that August weekend with Elizabeth Bays.
Bays, a graduate of Richland Northeast and College of Charleston, with two years’ post-graduate work at William Esper Conservatory, also is pursuing her dream in The Big Apple. She is affiliated with Actors Theatre New York.
“Next up for me is a leading role in ‘Photoluminescence,’ part of Hudson Guild Theatre’s Winterfest, a run of new works,” said Bays from her family home.
A third young talent whose connections reach from Columbia to New York (aka The Big Apple) is Catherine Carol Walker, who now has her Equity card and can obtain appointments without going the “cattle call” route.
“Catherine started school in Berlin, then lived here with me and attended St. Peter’s Catholic School when she was nine,” said her grandmother Betty Malone, for many years executive director of the South Carolina Philharmonic. “She helped me behind the scenes. She was in Kentucky for high school and college.”
While waiting for a call-back, Walker is nanny-on-call for the toddler of Joey Slotnick, currently starring in JUNK on Broadway.
Featured photo of Will Kana by James Jin.