Ambridge Area School District

901 Duss Avenue, Ambridge PA 15003 | 724.266.2833


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Performing Arts Academy

Article from the Beaver County times 12/3/15 - Written by Scott Tady:

Written almost 200 years ago, the original story was a scary fairy-tale intended only for adults.

A few storyline tweaks turned "The Nutcracker" into a family favorite and cherished holiday tradition.

Two local "Nutcracker" productions open this weekend -- at Ambridge Area High School and the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh -- with another "Nutcracker" stepping forward later this month at the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center in Midland.

Each show uniquely presents the dreamlike, coming-of-age tale, complete with Mouse King, Sugar Plum Fairy and toy soldiers, told with whimsy, beauty and rousing choreography.

Read more: The Nutcracker

On December 6th – 8th, The Ambridge Area School District Performing Arts Academy presented The Nutcracker in the Bridger Theatre.   Produced and Directed by Ken Nickel, our Performing Arts Academy students had the opportunity to shine on stage.  

Highlighted in these photos are a few of the lead dancers from Ambridge High School.    Senior Megan Vichich played the Columbine Doll, The Russian, and the Mouse King.    Junior Olivia Escamilla played Clara’s friend, a Snowflake, and a Mirlitron.   Junior Kayleigh Gisborne, Sophomore Sedona Rogers and Freshman Bethany Sweigart all played toy soldiers and parents at the party.  In addition, several employees and students from the JROTC program also helped out during opening party scene.  

Be sure to check our Facebook page and the latest edition of our Bridger Bulletin newsletter for more photos from the event.


Read more: The Nutcracker 

Kenneth Nickel, Director

nickelKenneth Nickel, a Pittsburgh native, began ballet training at the age of eleven, appearing in productions with Veronica Tennant and Earl Kraul of the National Ballet of Canada.  Trained in Philadelphia and New York as well as Pittsburgh, Nickel joined the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 1977, was promoted to soloist in 1980, and by 1982 was a principal dancer.

Upon leaving PBT in 1986, he held a position of principal dancer with Ballet West and later with Dallas Ballet Company.  His repertoire included Coppelia, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Serenade, Sleeping Beauty, Vestpri, LaSylphide, and In the Still of the   Night.

As first place winner of the National Arts and Letters Dance Competition, Kenneth Nickel was also one of the 1988 and 1989 Most Outstanding Young Men of America award.  He has participated in the World Ballet Concours Competition in Japan and in the International Ballet Competition in Moscow.  A frequent guest artist with the Louisiana Dance Foundation, he has performed in Rudolph Nureyev’s Giselle, danced with Nina Kovak’s company in Venezuela, and appeared with Kozlovs.  Nickel also served as advisor in promotions for the Tri Star movie “TAP.”

As Artistic Director of Ballet Orlando, he founded the Royal Dance Festival and received the 1990 & 1991 Dictionary of Distinguished Leadership in the Arts Community award.  In the spring of 1993, Nickel choreographed the ballet Cinderella for the Metropolitan Ballet of San Diego.

In 1995 he joined La Roche College as Artistic Director of Performing Arts, implementing a six-week intensive professional summer dance program as well as a summer dance festival, Fete de la Danse.  In 1996 he established a B.A. Degree for Performing Arts in Dance.  Also while at La Roche, Kenneth developed a public school arts program for dance, Resource Education Arts Development for Youths (R.E.A.D.Y.) In his third summer at La Roche, Kenneth began a program with the Very Special Arts of Pennsylvania, in which children with disabilities went to the college to learn different art forms.  Their work was presented with the Fete de la Danse that summer.

Ken was also elected Vice President for Dance for the Pennsylvania State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance.  To promote opportunities for students to dance Kenneth arranged an affiliation with Eddie Toussant, a gold medalist choreographer.  This allowed for the dancers to travel to Haiti to perform.  Kenneth also joined efforts with Ballet Theatre International in New Mexico.  With the directors of this company the students were able to perform at the Kennedy Center and in Michigan.  He also formed a strong bond with Buffalo City Ballet through which dancers performed in many ballets in Pittsburgh, New York, and Tennessee.  While involved with these affiliations and La Roche Kenneth choreographed The Nutcracker, Coppelia, Pas de Dix, Cinderella, and many original ballets for various companies around the country. Mr. Nickel as well teaches Master Classes and coaches dancers on various roles that they are performing in specifically male Soloists / Principal dancers in Pas de Deux’s

Mr. Nickel  joined California University of Pennsylvania  ( 2000-2003 )where he designed and worked on an already approved Bachelor of Arts Degree in dance. In February of 2007 Mr. Nickel directed and produced a very special tribute performance  to Pittsburgh’s late  Mayor, Mayor Bob O’Connor at  Heinz Hall  “ Continuing The Dream “in which over 400 artist’s participated in from all the Pittsburgh art groups

Mr. Nickel has been Ballet Master for the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School in Midland Pa .Mr. Nickel has created and developed an Associate Arts Degree in Dance Education in conjunction with the Community College of Beaver County that dancers can earn in their junior & senior years in High School. Mr. Nickel serves as Artistic Director  of the program for the Community College of Beaver. Mr. Nickel recently was nominated and the recipient of the Madison of America of the 2012 prestigious award of Who’s Who.  

Mr. Nickel has been a volunteer Firefighter for the past 10 years with the Bradford Woods Vol. fire Company where is severs as Assistant Chief.



Greer Reed

reedA native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Greer began early training with the Pittsburgh Black Theater Dance Ensemble.  Over the years, Ms. Reed  has been a contracted dancer with the

internationally acclaimed Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, (DCDC) in Dayton, Ohio, where she worked closely with internationally   renowned choreographers and directors, touring extensively throughout the US and abroad..  From 2009 to 2011 Greer was Artistic Director for the  Dance Alloy Theater, Pittsburgh’s premier  modern dance company.  Her most recent endeavor was the founding of The Reed Dance Intensive, with training in  African,  modern, ballet, and hip-hop dance.



crop cut brochureI am excited and proud to start the Ambridge Performing Arts Academy Professional Summer intensive Dance program at the Ambridge High School.  The 3 week program will allow every student to be challenged through a comprehensive curriculum that has been designed with myself and the various summer dance faculty members that will be teaching classes throughout the course in Ballet Technique, Pointe, Jazz,  Modern , Variations , Contemporary Partnering and Rehearsals.  College dance credits will be available for students that are juniors or seniors if they choose to apply.

The 201 summer faculty has been selected based on their professional qualifications of their own careers  Each of the faculty shares the same belief’s of teaching that, through individual corrections for each of the students will only improve on their technical strength and abilities to reach their full potential at the end of the 3 week program

At the conclusion of the summer program each student will perform in a Modern, Jazz and Pointe piece at the dance festival “ Fete de La Danse “  Joining the festival will include various  Performing Groups and University’s dance departments throughout Pennsylvania . Given the students a rare opportunity of working and sharing the same passion with other young artists and an opportunity to be seen by different Directors and choreographers

On behalf of the faculty of the summer intensive dance program and myself we are looking forward in working with each of you over the summer!


Kenneth Nickel

Artistic Director

Ambridge Area School District Performing Arts Academy


document 16 Summer Dance Registration 2015


ready Resource Educational Associate Arts Degree for Youths is a very unique program that is offered at the Ambridge Area High School Performing Arts Academy. This unique opportunity is for high school students that are juniors and seniors that are pursuing a career in the arts of Dance, Music, Musical Theatre/ Theatre.

    The program is designed for the students to declare their strongest interest in the arts of Music, Dance, Music Theatre or Theatre Education. Upon completion the students will have earn an Associate Arts Degree in their particular field of the arts upon their graduation from high school.

     This special designed curriculum in Arts and Education and in conjunction with a local collage is a 60 credited course of a two year completion.

      The Curriculum combines General Education Core with Education Core Courses. The art curriculum of Dance, Music and Musical Theater/Theater provides all hands on classes in the studios as well as Art Academic Core Courses in History, Productions, World Arts, Lighting and Staging, Pedagogy and performances and internships.

      Most or all of the credits are transferable to a four year college or University for the student to continue their education of earning a Bachelor of Arts Degree in much of a shorter time so they may initiate their professional careers early.


TaMara Swank
swankTaMara holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Dance and Master’s Degree in Exercise Science. TaMara is an Assistant Professor of Dance at Seton Hill University where she teaches undergraduate dance courses in all styles of dance as well as Dance Kinesiology and Teaching of Dance. TaMara has been teaching dance for over twenty years and is the founder of Studio 22 Performing Arts Center and SHUDA, the university community dance program. She has taught all levels dance technique and has been commissioned to create choreography for children’s programs, high school dance companies, university dance programs and musical theatre productions. In 2013, TaMara taught master classes at the Governor’s School for the Arts 10th Regional High School Dance Festival in Norfolf, Vriginia. As dance faculty at Seton Hill University, she has choreographed more than thirty pieces for dance concert productions and musicals, and her works have been selected for choreography awards at Showstoppers, Starquest, Headliners, Starbound, and Platinum Productions. She has performed professionally for Paul Osbourne Productions and Don Brockett Productions and choreographed for many productions including: “Grease”, “Hello Dolly”, “Oliver”, “The King and I”, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Pippin”, “Cabaret”, and many more.  Swank also has a list of original dance works including “The Seven Deadly Sins” dance concert and “EleMental Revolution” in collaboration with Seton Hill theatre faculty.


Renee Keil

keilRenee Keil has worked as a ballet, jazz and modern dance as well as an acting/theatre teacher.  She received BS and MA degrees from the University of Pittsburgh, and did graduate work in movement at the University of Oslo, Norway. She studied with Gus Giordano, Merce Cunningham, Roberto Munoz, Katheryn Posin, Paddy Toon and others. She uses Luigi jazz technique as her base. Renee began teaching at Chartiers Valley HS where she created a comprehensive dance and theatre program. Subsequently she became a Lead Teacher at the Pennsylvania Governor’s Institute for Arts Educators.  Other teaching positions include CCAC, Duquesne University, the University of Pittsburgh (movement for theater) as well as teaching jazz dance for ten years in Carnegie Mellon’s Pre-College Theatre Program.

Awards include the PA Dance Association’s Teacher of the Year, the Eastern District Dance Association Award, and Best Practice Awards in dance and theatre from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Arts Alliance, and Pittsburgh Fund for Arts in Education. In 2001 and 2005 she received the Pittsburgh CLO Gene Kelly Award for Best Direction of a Musical and has been nominated numerous times for her choreography. 

Renee has directed and choreographed for Duquesne University, choreographed for the University of Pittsburgh, CCAC and Penn State Altoona as well as for numerous regional theatre companies. She also served on the Pennsylvania Arts Assessment Team for over ten years in both Dance and Theatre. 


Marvin Askew

askew2Mr Askew has trained at the School of American Ballet Theatre under the direction of Leon Denelian and Patricia Wild as well as the American Dancer center with Alvin Alley.  Mr. Askew has danced professionally with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Chicago Ballet and the Maryland Ballet. He has danced many principal roles throughout his luminous career.  Mr. Askew is highly respected as a guest Master teacher and as a brilliant choreographer here and abroad who can highlight the dancer’s talents and abilities  to new heights.  Mr. Askew is the Artistic and Executive Director of the Buffalo Inner City Ballet since 1987.




Marvin Askew

Artistic & Executive Director

Buffalo Inner City Ballet

"R.E.A.A.D.Y  Program raises the Barre on Arts and Education“


Charles L. Augins

Chair of Dance

Duke Ellington School of the Arts

“Sounds very exciting and comprehensive would be an honor to serve on the panel “


Tyrone Brooks

Artistic Director

The Tallahassee Ballet


Dan Guin

Executive and Co- Artistic Director

Boca Ballet Theatre

“It is inspiring to be part of this unique initiative program of R.E.A.D.Y and exciting to consider the concept eventually could lead to other performing arts schools participating throughout the nation“


Tanuna Hunter

Associate Professor & Chairperson

Mercyhurst University Dance Dept,

and Artistic Director of Mercyhurst Dancers


Melanie Person

Co Director

The Alvin Ailey School

New York


William Starrett

Executive and Artistic Director

Columbia City Ballet South Carolina

“A program of magnitude that is needed for today’s dancers and tomorrow’s future teachers"


Eddy Toussaint

Artistic Director and Founder

Le Ballet Eddy Toussaint de Montreal


Welcome to the Ambridge Area High School Cyber and Performing Arts Academy.

dance1The Performing Arts Academy understands that every student in the arts starts first with a dream, then the challenge of striving to achieve success.

The Performing Arts Academy has many exceptional qualities, to be able to meet all the needs of our young aspiring future artistes. A customized comprehensive training program and various curriculum tracks offer students in Music, Dance, Theatre, Musical Theatre, and Acting in front of the camera that will cultivate and maximize their individual talents while providing the premier quality education.

The other unique opportunity that is offered is specifically designed for high school juniors and seniors called R.E.A.D.Y (Resource Education Associate Arts Degree for Youths). The two year 60 credits program is with the collaborative agreement between the Ambridge Area School District and the Community College of Beaver County (C.C.B.C.). Students will receive their high school diploma and an Associate Arts Degree upon graduation from high school allowing them to pursue their Bachelors degree at a 4 year institute in a possible two year period.dance2

The Cyber Academy that is offered at the Ambridge Area High School and surrounding school districts is a great venue for all students in the performing arts. Students will have more flexibility in their schedules to devote more time in their arts disciplines of classes and performances.

Let's strive and work together through all challenges to achieve your dreams of success!


Kenneth Nickel

Artistic Director of the Performing Arts Academy