Stage & Dance

Arts Preview: Choreographer Peggy Stamps

Peggy Stamps has been the woman behind the moves in some of the biggest song-and-dance shows in Lexington.

She choreographed 2004's Jesus Christ Superstar and this summer's Hair, two of the most successful shows in the Arboretum's summer theater festivals. Stamps also is part of the brain trust behind It's a Grand Night for Singing, the annual parade of show-stoppers at the Singletary Center for the Arts.

Most of that work is done at night and on the weekends. By day, Stamps works at Lexmark, where she has put her industrial engineering degree from Indiana University to work for 24 years.

She occasionally has thought that she'd like to pursue dance full-time, but that has not seemed feasible.

"In Lexington, being able to earn your living within a 60-mile radius of the city would almost be impossible," Stamps says. "There are a couple of reasons."

A big one is that most dancers and choreographers have a style, be it ballet, jazz, ethnic dance or other forms, and the opportunities to work in a single style would be limited here, Stamps says.

"The closest you could come is a little bit of what I do, which would be called musical theater choreography," Stamps says. "And you could get work doing that for high schools and theaters and giving private lessons. But to make a living at it, I think you'd still struggle."

Stamps and other dance experts in the area say they don't know anyone making a living in Central Kentucky just dancing. Most people who earn their living from dance in town own or operate dance schools or companies or teach at one of those programs or in schools or universities.

When she retires, Stamps says, she would like to open some sort of studio or workshop, but for now, she likes the relationship between her work and her art.

Stamps has moved around Lexmark, which she joined when it was IBM. She now works with the supply chain, studying competitors, looking at how to better move the company's products.

"I spend most of my time outside of the box," Stamps says. "I have trouble getting back in the box, and I tell people, 'It's a lot less crowded outside the box.' That's where the artist side of me comes into play.

"I always feel a little different in corporate America, but I also feel different in the art world, too. Having an engineer and technical-minded person in the arts world, people will ask, 'How did an engineer get to be in the dance world?' and vice-versa. I've had people say, 'How did the dancer get to be an engineer?'"

Well, it started in Detroit, where Stamps was born and lived until she moved to Atlanta, where as a student she danced with Atlanta Dance Theatre. But she suffered a back injury that made a dance career unlikely. So she went to Indiana University and got an engineering degree.

The dance work, which includes occasionally dancing for the American Spiritual Ensemble and giving private movement lessons, can make for long days. But she says the more she works at Lexmark, the more dance work she takes on.

"It's like I need balance in my life," Stamps says. "Lexmark is probably getting more out of me because I do (dance), too. I try to make sure I'm on top of things."

Although choreography is an after-hours avocation for Stamps, she does not give away her services.

"At first, I would do some things as a favor because we're all friends in the arts world," she says. "After a while, the requests would get larger and larger, and I would tell people, 'I'm not trying to earn my living as a choreographer, but there are people who have a larger dependence on it than I do. So if I don't ask to be paid, I'm not training the community that you have to pay for this skill. It's not to be given away.'"

With productions, she says the hourly pay doesn't turn out to be much when she includes time she spends at home creating choreography and countless hours with the cast.

"It's probably a dime an hour," she says.

She says she wants the arts and the skills to be valued, "because I want these things to stay alive in Lexington. I want it for my colleagues, I want it for their children and I want it for me when I'm a little old lady, so I can sit back and watch good art."

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