Bits 'n' Pieces: Ballerina changes focus to making dance costumes

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When Nicole Smith pulled on her first ballet slippers in elementary school, she had no idea how far those shoes would take her.

Dancing through middle and high school at both Columbia Dance and Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, she considered pursuing a professional ballet career. But after attending a summer workshop at American Ballet Theater in New York during high school, she realized she no longer wanted to pursue that dream. But she kept dancing.

While Nicole was dancing, her mother, Brenda Smith, was constructing costumes as a volunteer seamstress for Columbia Dance. Along the way, Brenda taught Nicole to sew. In 2007, Nicole and Brenda took a tutu-making workshop at Oregon Ballet Theatre. The creative work resonated with Nicole.

“It was fun,” Nicole said. “I thought this was something I could do.”

Her dream evolved from dancing to creating dance costumes.

Now a senior merchandising major at Washington State University, Nicole is one of 27 students whose creations will be featured in today’s Mom’s Weekend Fashion Show at WSU in Pullman. She dedicated her fashion line, “A Blossom of Hope,” to her mom, who beat breast cancer 11 years ago.

The fashion show represents months of Nicole’s work, from designing and creating mock-ups during fall semester to spending between 75 and 100 hours since January constructing 12 to 15 ready-to-wear separates to comprise four outfits for the show.

“Ultimately, I want to work in a dance company’s costume shop,” said Nicole, 22. “But for now, I’m getting more experience under my belt.”

Nicole’s parents, Brenda and Bruce Smith and her grandmother, Elfriede Bohlmann -- all from Salmon Creek -- and two aunts from Florida are attending the show to cheer Nicole on toward her dream.

— Susan Parrish

In retirement, former Bay teacher finds time to pen book

Pamela Deane Stanek always had the writing bug. But working 50-plus hours a week as a high school English teacher tends to squelch one’s energy for extracurricular creativity, she said.

So it wasn’t until after she retired from Hudson’s Bay High School that Stanek got busy with a great idea inspired by fellow teacher Becky Phillips. Phillips grew up in Goldendale and formed a 4-H club with some childhood friends “so they could get out of school a week early and raise animals,” Stanek said.

From that image grew Stanek’s self-published novel, “The Byers Avenue Bunny Club.” Despite the cutesy title and the fact that our heroes are three 13-year-old “misfit” girls, the book isn’t really aimed at young people, Stanek said. It’s got a lighter, nostalgic side -- the story takes place in fictitious Ricochet, Wash., in 1953 -- but it also deals with some seriously grown-up issues, like alcoholism, abuse and murder.

Where did the story come from? “I had a vague outline, but there are always things that happen,” Stanek said. “Every writer will tell you that their characters take on a life of their own.”

The book is already available through amazon.com under the name Pamela Deane, and it will be celebrated at a book launch at 2 p.m. Saturday at Cover to Cover Books, 6300 N.E. St. James Road, Suite 104B. Call 360-993-7777 for more information.

Meanwhile, Stanek, 79, said she’s about halfway through her second novel, called “Max,” which is based on her experience raising a schizophrenic son.

— Scott Hewitt

Bits ’n’ Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you’d like to share, email bits@columbian.com.