Who We Are

Kabby Mitchell, III, Co-Founder 

Klair Ethridge, Co-Founder, Director

Julie Tobiason, Ballet Director

Lynne Short, School Principal

Pamela Lewis-Bridges, M.Ed  Board President

Our Mission

Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center’s mission is to provide our most deserving youth world class opportunities to achieve Artistic Excellence in the Performing Arts through  

  • Community classes and Pre-professional  classical ballet training
  • National and international mentors and intergenerational guest artists 
  • Whole person development  and community give back 

About Our Founders


Kabby Mitchell, III "Kabby Mitchell III was in his early 20s when he became the first black company member of PNB, back in 1979; pictures of him from the time show a charismatic young man clearly at ease with being elegantly airborne. He danced with the company until 1984, reaching the rank of soloist. It was the beginning of a rich career that took him around the world — he performed with Nederlands Dans Theater, as well as Dance Theater of Harlem, PNB and other companies — but kept him rooted here in the Pacific Northwest, where he became a beloved choreographer, teacher, mentor and role model." -Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times




KLAIR ETHRIDGE, T.U.P.A.C. Co-Founder and Director

Klair Ethridge has always worked in the arts/entertainment fields. She began her dance training at the American Ballet Theatre School, the High School of Performing Arts, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and various other schools of dance in New York City. Klair danced in numerous stage, television, commercial, and feature film productions.

As a young girl, one of her three brothers coerced her into watching  the film "The Producers",  Klair  was intrigued with the art of producing  for the stage and screen and ultimately  worked with Broadway Producer, Ashton Springer and Director Otis Sallid in New York City on several productions before moving to Los Angeles. 

She assisted Director, Bill Duke on the feature film, Deep Cover, and was the Assistant to the Executive Producer of, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, before she went on to Produce & Co-Write the Short Film, Conversations, which featured James Earl Jones, Harvey Fierstein, Obba Babatunde and other notable actors, which presented at numerous domestic and international Film Festivals. 

Klair went on to produce for Sony Pictures, Dick Clark Corporate Productions and numerous other companies.

Klair has also always been fascinated with sound and became a microphone boom operator, she was on the Emmy Award nominated Sound Team for Season I of LOST as well as an Emmy Award winner as a member of the  Sound Team for Season IV of LOST. Desperate Housewives, the uproarious comedy, Next Day Air directed by Benny Boom, starring Mike Epps and Mos Def as well as countless other Television Shows, Feature Films and Commercials round out her professional work.  

Board of Directors & Advisors


T.U.P.A.C. Board of Directors


Pamela Lewis-Bridges, M.Ed, 


John Douville

Joye Hardiman, PhD

Travis Pope

T.U.P.A.C. Advisory Board

Salmh Ayers

Jasmine Bridges

Marie Chong

Dr. Eric Clausell

Jade Solomon Curtis

Stephanie Flagg, MD.

Beverly Grant  J.D.

Arif Gursel

Maxine Mimms, PhD

Gilda Sheppard, PhD

A Look Inside the Studio


Our Students learn & execute mending as their parents take our Open African Dance Class.

This & That

Been away from Dance Classes for a While?



 Love yourself and take a dance class!

A good place to start: Open Beginner Ballet:  Come and join us at T.U.P.A.C. a fun, welcoming and focused dance environment! 

Every Friday 6:30 pm – 7:45 pm







Renee is an African American Tacoma-based ballet dancer. She has been dancing with the Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center (T.U.P.A.C.) for three years and utilizes dance

as a medium for community healing. Renee is committed to advocating for access to the arts and dance for more young people of color.

Instagram: @Tacoma.upac 


Website: tacomaupac.org/who-we-are



A Dancer's Life


"Olivia  has learned so much in the so many months that she's been taking dance  classes at T.U.P.A.C. Its amazing to see her growth. She loves every  class, especially ballet and calls herself a 'ballet nerd.' 
The  many performance opportunities give the kids a chance to be in front of  an audience and more importantly,  they allow the parents and kids a  chance to connect with the community. I love that. Through T.U.P.A.C, we  have also had the opportunity to see high quality performances, which  has helped to fuel my daughter's desire to learn, dance and perform. 

One  of the my favorite things about Olivia taking class at T.U.P.A.C is  that she now has so many mentors. The school helps to guide the children  to be healthy human beings and good community members. We look forward  to the Girls Hearts On Fire meetings, which help to empower girls and  provide holistic enrichment through creative projects, discussions and  other programs.   Thanks!" ~ Jenna Frieson (parent) 


A Dancer's Life



There is a strict dress code for each level of T.U.P.A.C. YDP students. So that we may accurately instruct students in proper techniques, the body must be visible. Showing respect for our art in conduct as well as a dress code helps foster the required discipline it takes to learn a classical art.

Leotards, tights and shoes can be purchased  online at Discount dance.com. 

Dancers who are not in dress code may be asked to sit out and observe class for that day.For safety and etiquette, only small post earrings may be worn. Facial jewelry must be flush (even) with the skin. No other jewelry including necklaces, watches, and bracelets or rings may be worn.Hair must be secured to keep hair out of eyes, and off of the neck – this is necessary for proper spotting. Hair clips and bows should not dangle from the ends of braids or twists. If hair is short there is no need to force it into a bun.

GIRLS 6-10:     Class assigned colored leotard, transition tights that match student’s skin color, canvas split soled ballet slippers – nude, pink or white (to be colored to match students skin color).

GIRLS & YOUNG WOMEN 11-18: Class assigned colored leotard,  transition tights that match student’s skin color, canvas or leather split soled ballet slippers – nude, pink or white (to be colored to match students skin color).

BOYS & YOUNG MEN 6-18:  White short-sleeve fitted tee shirt or leotard, black dance belt, black dance shorts or black transition tights, short white socks, white canvas or leather split  soled ballet shoes. 



Q. Where is T.U.P.A.C. located?

A. T.U.P.A.C. is located at 705 Opera Alley, between Broadway & St. Helens &  off of   7th . 

Q. What qualifications are necessary to register for dance classes?

A. Auditions for placement are not necessary. The Fall/Winter YDP Session will be divided by maturity and will follow the guidelines for the age and development of students as set by the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS).  

Q. How is the school year organized?

A. The 2020 Winter/Spring Session is  Jan. 19th - June 13th. 

Q. Are classes open to observation throughout the year?

A. No, parents and outside guests may not observe classes, it is disruptive to the student and instructor. Parent observation will occur one week in each session.

Q. Are scholarships available?

A. There are merit and need based scholarships available for YDP students.

Q. Will there be performance opportunities?

A. All T.U.P.A.C. YDP students in good standing have the opportunity to participate in various productions throughout each session.

Q. Who do I contact if I have any questions?

A. Email: office@tacomaupac.org, or call: 253-327-1873. All students should also report their absences here. 

Use It or Lose It: Dancing Makes You Smarter, Longer.

Richard Powers

For centuries, dance manuals and other writings have lauded the health benefits of dancing, usually as physical exercise.  More recently we've seen research on further health benefits of dancing, such as stress reduction and increased serotonin level, with its sense of well-being.

Most recently we've heard of another benefit:  Frequent dancing apparently makes us smarter.

A major study added to the growing evidence that stimulating one's mind by dancing can ward off Alzheimer's disease and other dementia, much as physical exercise can keep the body fit.  Dancing also increases cognitive acuity at all ages.

You may have heard about the New England Journal of Medicine report on the effects of recreational activities on mental acuity in aging.   Here it is in a nutshell.

The 21-year study of senior citizens, 75 and older, was led by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, funded by the National Institute on Aging, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.  Their method for objectively measuring mental acuity in aging was to monitor rates of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

The study wanted to see if any physical or cognitive recreational activities influenced mental acuity.  They discovered that some activities had a significant beneficial effect.  Other activities had none.

They studied cognitive activities such as reading books, writing for pleasure, doing crossword puzzles, playing cards and playing musical instruments.  And they studied physical activities like playing tennis or golf, swimming, bicycling, dancing, walking for exercise and doing housework.

One of the surprises of the study was that almost none of the physical activities appeared to offer any protection against dementia.  There can be cardiovascular benefits of course, but the focus of this study was the mind.

There was one important exception:  the only physical activity to offer protection against dementia was frequent dancing.

Reading - 35% reduced risk of dementia

Bicycling and swimming - 0%

Doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week - 47%

Playing golf - 0%

Dancing frequently - 76%.   That was the greatest risk reduction of any activity studied, cognitive or physical.


What could cause these significant cognitive benefits?

In this study, neurologist Dr. Robert Katzman proposed that these persons are more resistant to the effects of dementia as a result of having greater cognitive reserve and increased complexity of neuronal synapses.  Like education, participation in mentally engaging activities lowers the risk of dementia by improving these neural qualities.

As Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Coyle explains in an accompanying commentary:  "The cerebral cortex and hippocampus, which are critical to these activities, are remarkably plastic, and they rewire themselves based upon their use."

Our brain constantly rewires its neural pathways, as needed.  If it doesn't need to, then it won't.

            Aging and memory

When brain cells die and synapses weaken with aging, our nouns go first, like names of people, because there's only one neural pathway connecting to that stored information.  If the single neural connection to that name fades, we lose access to it.  As people age, some of them learn to parallel process, to come up with synonyms to go around these roadblocks.

The key here is Dr. Katzman's emphasis on the complexity of our neuronal synapses.  More is better.  Do whatever you can to create new neural paths.  The opposite of this is taking the same old well-worn path over and over again, with habitual patterns of thinking and living.

When I was studying the creative process as a grad student at Stanford, I came across the perfect analogy to this:

            The more stepping stones there are across the creek,
            the easier it is to cross in your own style.

The focus of that aphorism was creative thinking, to find as many alternative paths as possible to a creative solution.  But as we age, parallel processing becomes more critical.  Now it's no longer a matter of style, it's a matter of survival — getting across the creek at all.  Randomly dying brain cells are like stepping stones being removed one by one.  Those who had only one well-worn path of stones are completely blocked when some are removed.  But those who spent their lives trying different mental routes each time, creating a myriad of possible paths, still have several paths left.

As the study shows, we need to keep as many of those paths active as we can, while also generating new paths, to maintain the complexity of our neuronal connections.

In other words: Intelligence — use it or lose it.


What exactly do we mean by "intelligence"?

You'll probably agree that intelligence isn't just a numerical measurement, with a number of 100 plus or minus assigned to it.  But what is it?

To answer this question, we go back to the most elemental questions possible.  Why do animals have a brain?  To survive?  No, plants don't have a brain and they survive.  To live longer?  No, many trees outlive us.

As neuroscience educator Robert Sylwester notes, mobility is central to everything that is cognitive, whether it is physical motion or the mental movement of information.  Plants have to endure whatever comes along, including predators eating them.  Animals, on the other hand, can travel to seek food, shelter, mates, and to move away from unfavorable conditions.  Since we can move, we need a cognitive system that can comprehend sensory input and intelligently make choices.

Semantics will differ for each of us, but according to many, if the stimulus-response relationship of a situation is automatic, we don't think of the response as requiring our intelligence.  We don't use the word "intelligent" to describe a banana slug, even though it has a rudimentary brain.  But when the brain evaluates several viable responses and chooses one (a real choice, not just following habits), the cognitive process is considered to be intelligent.

As Jean Piaget put it, intelligence is what we use when we don't already know what to do.

            Why dancing?

We immediately ask two questions:

  • Why is dancing better than other activities for improving mental capabilities?

  • Does this mean all kinds of dancing, or is one kind of dancing better than another?

    That's where this particular study falls short.  It doesn't answer these questions as a stand-alone study.  Fortunately, it isn't a stand-alone study.  It's one of many studies, over decades, which have shown that we increase our mental capacity by exercising our cognitive processes.  Intelligence: Use it or lose it.  And it's the other studies which fill in the gaps in this one.  Looking at all of these studies together lets us understand the bigger picture.

    The essence of intelligence is making decisions.  The best advice, when it comes to improving your mental acuity, is to involve yourself in activities which require split-second rapid-fire decision making, as opposed to rote memory (retracing the same well-worn paths), or just working on your physical style.

    One way to do that is to learn something new.  Not just dancing, but anything new.  Don't worry about the probability that you'll never use it in the future.  Take a class to challenge your mind.  It will stimulate the connectivity of your brain by generating the need for new pathways.  Difficult classes are better for you, as they will create a greater need for new neural pathways.

    Then take a dance class, which can be even more effective.  Dancing integrates several brain functions at once — kinesthetic, rational, musical, and emotional — further increasing your neural connectivity.

                What kind of dancing?

    Do all kinds of dancing lead to increased mental acuity?  No, not all forms of dancing will produce the same benefit, especially if they only work on style, or merely retrace the same memorized paths.  Making as many split-second decisions as possible, is the key to maintaining our cognitive abilities.  Remember: intelligence is what we use when we don't already know what to do.

    We wish that thirty years ago the Albert Einstein College of Medicine thought of doing side-by-side comparisons of different kinds of dancing, to find out which was better.  But we can figure it out by looking at who they studied: senior citizens 75 and older, beginning in 1980.  Those who danced in that particular population were former Roaring Twenties dancers (back in 1980) and then former Swing Era dancers (today), so the kind of dancing most of them continued to do in retirement was what they began when they were young: freestyle social dancing -- basic foxtrot, waltz, swing, and maybe some rumba and cha cha.

    I've been watching senior citizens dance all of my life, from my parents (who met at a Tommy Dorsey dance), to retirement communities, to the Roseland Ballroom in New York.  I almost never see memorized sequences or patterns on the dance floor.  I mostly see easygoing, fairly simple social dancing — freestyle lead and follow.  But freestyle social dancing isn't that simple!  It requires a lot of split-second decision-making, in both the Lead and Follow roles.  Read more about the differences between the three different kinds of ballroom dancing here, to gain a better understanding of the role of decision-making in social or ballroom dance.

    At this point, I want to clarify that I'm not demonizing memorized sequence dancing, or style-focused pattern-based ballroom dancing.  Although they don't have much influence on cognitive reserve, there are stress-reduction benefits of any kind of dancing, cardiovascular benefits of physical exercise, and even further benefits of feeling connected to a community of dancers.  So all dancing is good.

    But when it comes to preserving (and improving) our mental acuity, then some forms are significantly better than others.  While all dancing requires some intelligence, I encourage you to use your full intelligence when dancing, in both the Lead and Follow roles.  The more decision-making we can bring into our dancing, the better.

                Who benefits more, women or men?

    In social dancing, the Follow role automatically gains a benefit, by making hundreds of split-second decisions as to what to do next, sometimes unconsciously so.  As I mentioned on this page, women don't "follow", they interpret the signals their partners are giving them, and this requires intelligence and decision-making, which is active, not passive.

    This benefit is greatly enhanced by dancing with different partners, not always with the same fellow.  With different dance partners, you have to adjust much more and be aware of more variables.  This is great for staying smarter longer.

    But men, you can also match her degree of decision-making if you choose to do so.

    Here's how:
    1) Really pay attention to your partner and what works best for her.  Notice what is comfortable for her, where she is already going, which signals are successful with her and which aren't, and constantly adapt your dancing to these observations.  That's rapid-fire split-second decision making.

    2) Don't lead the same old patterns the same way each time.  Challenge yourself to try new things each time you dance.  Make more decisions more often.  Intelligence: use it or lose it.

    The huge side-benefit is that your partners will have much more fun dancing with you when you are attentive to their dancing and constantly adjusting for their comfort and continuity of motion.  And as a result, you'll have more fun too.

                Full engagement

    Those who fully utilize their intelligence in dancing, at all levels, love the way it feels.  Spontaneous leading and following both involve entering a flow state.  Both leading and following benefit from a highly active attention to possibilities.

    That's the most succinct definition I know for intelligent dancing: a highly active attention to possibilities.  And I think it's wonderful that both the Lead and Follow role share this same ideal.

    The best Leads appreciate the many options that the Follow must consider every second, and respect and appreciate the Follow's input into the collaboration of partner dancing.  The Follow is finely attuned to the here-and-now in relaxed responsiveness, and so is the Lead.

    Once this highly active attention to possibilities, flexibility, and alert tranquility are perfected in the art of dance partnering, dancers find it even more beneficial in their other relationships, and in everyday life.

                Dance often

    The study made another important suggestion: do it often.  Seniors who did crossword puzzles four days a week had a measurably lower risk of dementia than those who did the puzzles once a week.  If you can't take classes or go out dancing four times a week, then dance as much as you can.  More is better.

    And do it now, the sooner the better.  It's essential to start building your cognitive reserve now.  Some day you'll need as many of those stepping stones across the creek as possible.  Don't wait — start building them now.