Passionate about Performing

Local woman wants to bring arts to Cortez

Larry Larsen and Jodee Powers practice the tango at Come Dance Tonight! during an advanced class Friday night. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Larry Larsen and Jodee Powers practice the tango at Come Dance Tonight! during an advanced class Friday night.

Denise Westbrook believes in dance. She believes in its power. She has seen dance bring together new love and create lasting friendships. She believes it brings new opportunities. In particular, opportunities for the community of Cortez to expand its offering of artists, musicians and other talents.

The Millennium Center for the Performing Arts is Westbrook’s concept. She hopes to deliver a place to the community for balls, dances, fine art shows, wine tastings and much more.

The idea comes from the mind of dance instructor with 40 years of dancing, performing, event planning and socializing experience. She owns Come Dance Tonight!, the ballroom dance studio and social club in downtown Cortez, and says that her space is limited but her students are abundant.

“There are only five, seven-hour time slots in a week,” Westbrook says. “The more space I have, the more time I have and the more people I can put in my classes. If I have the space I can fill it. As a dance school, that’s all you need.”

Westbrook is determined to buy or build a venue that will help create jobs, bring in new artists or musicians and help keep tourists in the area a little longer. Even though large attractions such as Mesa Verde bring curious folk in, it only takes a day or two before they are on to the next town.

“I want to help make Cortez a destination town,” Westbrook says. “People come here to experience the Southwest. If I can put this arts center together we will have more people staying in our hotels, eating in our restaurants and buying our goods. They will want to stay here instead of going on to someplace else.”

When she first came to Cortez, a dance studio was not on her to-do list. She came from Miami Beach where she was a party planner. As her time here unfolded, she began giving dance lessons to interested friends and colleagues. She rented a space at a nearby dance studio for a couple of hours a week. As her customer base grew, Westbrook realized she needed her own place with her own hours to burn.

Come Dance Tonight, began in the suite where Stonefish Sushi is now located. After some time in that slot, Westbrook, again, needed expansion. Her current dance school is located at 30 West Main St. where she has been for three and a half years. Her ballroom is 60 feet long and one of the storefront windows acts as her office. Westbrook says it had to be done that way for her to have a maximum amount of teaching room.

The plans for a performing arts center for Cortez is something Westbrook has been sitting on for quite some time. She is optimistic about her project because she has a number of friends and community members backing her. But she knows it won’t be an easy task.

She hopes to begin building in two years. Whether a venue is built from the ground up or an existing building expanded, she is up for the challenge. Her plans for the interior will include a convertible floor space to host various different activities, a catering kitchen for themed dinners and more rooms for teaching.

She wants to host weddings, dances, theater and musical acts; any event that could potentially create more visitors and keep our residents entertained.

“I have students who will drive to Santa Fe to go to the opera, or Albuquerque for a concert or Denver to go to the theater, and I think that’s great, that’s fine,” Westbrook says. “But we need a place to hold those functions so they will have something to do here.”

The arts are very important to her. She is making a grand effort to present her passion to the public and show others the opportunities dance, music and theater can have on the community. For years, dance has given Westbrook incredible chances and moments in the spotlight.

“Everything that’s happened with the studio has worked for me here,” Westbrook says. “And it shouldn’t have. I’m going forward with this idea because I believe I can make it work.”

rachels@cortezjournal.com

Dance teacher Denise Westbrook gives instructions to dancers Friday night at Come Dance Tonight!. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Dance teacher Denise Westbrook gives instructions to dancers Friday night at Come Dance Tonight!.

Peggy Young demonstrates a dance step with the teacher, Denise Westbrook, left. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Peggy Young demonstrates a dance step with the teacher, Denise Westbrook, left.