In Memoriam: Mike Strong (1947-2024)

Mike Strong (courtesy Nicole English)

Beloved KC dance photographer renowned for unique ability to capture movement on stage

Movement and stillness are not opposite states but exist on a continuum. Michael Howard Strong, known as Mike to many, understood this dynamic relationship, the movement and kinetic energy of dancers portrayed in the stillness of a photograph and the language of video. He was known and respected for a body of work assembled over his lifetime.

Nicole English, his life partner of more than 25 years, “wanted people to know that Mike took dance classes to learn more about dance to help his photography.”

Beginning in 1994, he began learning ballroom dancing and also studied tap and swing. Nicole and Mike met at the KC Swing Dance Club.

Owen/Cox Dance Group artistic director Jennifer Owen remembered that Mike “not only attended all the performances, but he’d come to rehearsal and capture the creative process. He was amazing at taking candid photos of people, not just the artists, but audience members, stage crew, and everyone who was there.”

Mike connected people, too, “especially members of the dance community who might not otherwise intersect,” Owen said.

This photo by Mike Strong captured Angelina Sansone and Geoffrey Kropp of the Kansas City Ballet performing choreographer Amy Seiwert’s “Concertino” as part of the 2014 New Dance Partners program. (photo by Mike Strong)

Mary Pat Henry, professor emeritus of dance at the UMKC Conservatory and co-founder and artistic director of Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company, said, “Mike’s passion and gift for photography and especially dance touched most of the midsize dance companies and art organizations in KC for more than 25 years. He had the unique ability to capture movement on the stage during the most beautiful and technical moments. I especially admired his ability to capture the emotion of the dance piece or dancers on the stage through his lens, as well as powerful moments of stillness when there was no dancing.”

Henry also shared that “Mike, the man, had an inquisitive mind. He loved to share his knowledge of photography with anyone who was interested and freely spent time with them. He was a bit of a renaissance man with the diverse skills and professions he had done before photography.”

Indeed, Mike was not only a professional photographer, but also an educator, videographer, programmer, writer, and newspaper and radio reporter, among other professions. His skills and talents were varied and often connected to learning, teaching and sharing. A self-described “web monkey,” he taught computer science at UMKC and at UMKC’s Program for Adult Continuing Education (PACE) for nearly two decades.

Recording dance through photos and video was clearly a passion, and his contributions to the arts were many. His dance-related clients included City in Motion, Kansas City Ballet, Fringe Festival, UMKC Conservatory, Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance, Friends of Alvin Ailey, Traditional Music Society, Soundz of Africa, KCK Tamburitzans, New Dance Partners, American Youth Ballet and Raghsidad, among others. He also produced the cable television series “Dance On!” for his former tap teacher Billie Mahoney, shot at the Bolender Center.

“He was generous with his time and his talents, and graciously gave so much of himself,” said Owen. “He was a beloved member of our community, and we are heartbroken to lose him.”

Even now in stillness, Mike Strong moves us.

Pete Dulin

Pete Dulin is the author of “Expedition of Thirst: Exploring Breweries, Wineries, and Distilleries Across the Heart of Kansas and Missouri,” “Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland,” and two other books. His reporting has appeared in “AFAR Magazine,” “Feast,” “Kansas City Magazine,” KCUR, Zócalo Public Square, “The Kansas City Star,” “The Boston Globe,” and other publications.

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