2021 Capital Region Gives Back: Dennis Moench, Senior Director of Education, Saratoga Performing Arts Center

This story is part of a larger feature on 10 do-gooders from Saratoga and the rest of the Capital Region. To meet the other nine honorees and purchase tickets for annual fundraising event, visit our Capital Region Gives Back event page.

“Everyone who is a lover of the arts has had a moment in life where they see a performance or they take a class or they sing or play an instrument for the first time and some sort of electric shock occurs,” says Dennis Moench, SPAC’s senior director of education. “The lightbulb goes off and you realize that there is this whole other world and a whole other way of expressing yourself creatively.” For Moench, that moment came in seventh grade, when he first got on stage as an extra in a school play. And now, he has a brand-new way to facilitate those lightbulb moments for young people on the regular, as the director of SPAC’s just-opened School of the Arts (SOTA).

The multidisciplinary school dedicated to year-round education in dance, music, theater and more, prioritizes multicultural, multi-genre education, while furthering its mission to facilitate inclusion, equity in and access to arts education. It opened in September.

Now in his sixth year at SPAC, Moench was in prime position for his new director role. Moench, who himself studied theater at NYU and was a Broadway actor for 15 years (he appeared in iconic shows such as Les Misérables and Mary Poppins, among other shows), has grown SPAC’s education program from one that reached 5,000 Capital Region students in 2015 into one that reached nearly 50,000 students in 2019, largely by way of in-school arts programming. In 2020, Moench reached young artists virtually through SPAC’s free online Learning Library. 

When Moench looks back on the arts opportunities he’s given to tens of thousands of children over the years, he says that the highlight has been SPAC’s in-school dance programs. “We get some students every year who walk into class and do not want to be there—they’re not interested at all,” he says. “After about the second or third class, there’s a moment when those students change drastically, and all of a sudden they’re dancing their hearts out in the middle of the gymnasium. They completely open up, and their barriers are dropped. Those are the moments that I am honored to witness.” 

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