The scene at the Riverwalk Center is one of organized chaos, children flitting about in sequins and loud colors, the girls twirling tulle tutus and the boys practicing their hip-hop dance moves. Parents and other loved ones post up in folding chairs, cameras at the ready, as the kids disappear backstage and line up for the curtain call.
It’s dress rehearsal day for The Spirit of Dance, and group by group, the performers strut onto the stage to practice their bows. It begins with the oldest kids in the advanced dance classes, followed by intermediate dancers, and closes with a row of preschoolers in pink, a gaggle of smiling girls and one dazzling little boy in a sequined pink vest.
“I think the kids are very excited for tomorrow,” said Aimee Sanborn, assistant director for The Spirit of Dance. “They love to wear their costumes and makeup. They’re born performers — they love to have an audience.”
The dance studio, located in Fairplay, offers more than a dozen different classes of different levels, from tots to teens, drawing dancers from Fairplay and Alma and as far away as Buena Vista and Jefferson, which is where Sanborn lives.
“We don’t exclude anyone, and the parents make it the type of atmosphere that if you need any help, they are right there to jump in and help you,” Sanborn said. “And the kids get a chance to do multiple classes because it’s such a small town — you aren’t limited to having to choose a few classes, you can take it all.”
The majority of the kids file back into the auditorium and take their seats with groups of friends or with their parents, grabbing a quick drink or snack, and the music starts, drawing out the initial act to go through the paces. The first dance is hip-hop, and the building thumps as performers in black and sparkling gold throw down the attitude.
Luke Lindberg, 8, of Fairplay, will be on stage soon with his own hip-hop class, but for now he’s lounging with a few friends in green and black duds, waiting their turn. Luke has already been dancing for four years.
“I like going on stage and dancing in front of everybody, showing how good I am,” he said. “I feel kind of nervous, but once I start dancing, I think, ‘This isn’t so bad.’ … Once you watch a dance recital, it makes you want to go on stage and dance.”
Dancing just makes you feel good and it’s really fun, Luke said. Two of his favorite hip-hop moves are the coffee grinder and the baby freeze.
“The coffee grinder is like you go on the floor and your knee is like this,” he said, bunching up one leg under his body, “and your leg is spread out,” he adds, stretching the other leg out to the side. “You hop over your leg and keep on doing that all the way around. Baby freeze is a balancing pose; you have to put your legs in the air and your head in the air, too.”
Sitting farther back in the auditorium, Georgia Stamm, 14, of Fairplay, is snacking on a granola bar, being careful not to get chocolate crumbs on her mostly white ballet dress. Georgia has been taking classes at The Spirit of Dance for about seven years, since she was in first grade, and practices modern and ballet.
“I like being with Wendy and Amy and dancing, and I’ve definitely made good friends here,” she said. “If you walk into dance class in a bad mood, you don’t leave in a bad mood, ever. We’re all super close like a family; we’ve all grown up together.”
Georgia has a loose routine that calms her nerves before taking the stage.
“Deep breathing, talking to my friends and talking about how they’re just as nervous,” she said, adding her favorite thing about dancing — “Being able to express yourself no matter what.”
Picture perfect in pink
Vayda Gallegos is only 5, but she’s already in her third year dancing. Her magenta costume gives her away as a member of the preschool dance class, which will be performing a number to a song called “We’re Mixin’ It Up.”
“They let us turn like this,” she said, spinning in small circles in the center aisle. “That’s my favorite part.”
As if to demonstrate, Vayda grabs a nearby classmate, picks her up in a bear hug and spins her around. The tiny dancer was also very particular about how to care for her costume, a leotard and matching tulle tutu.
“We only put it upside down in the bathroom so the skirt would be steamed,” she said, wandering away and then coming back again to answer another question concerning what she loves about dance. “It’s fun to go on stage when the song goes on.”
“I got her in early because she was a ham,” said Melanie Gallegos, of Alma, Vayda’s mother. “Last year, they couldn’t get her off the stage; they had to physically pull her off.”
Melanie said Vayda loves dancing and being with her friends, adding that the studio is in a small community and it brings a lot of families together. It’s time for Vayda’s preschool group to shuffle onto the stage, where most of the dancers take a seat in front of Sanborn, picking at their costumes or fidgeting like little caged animals or just staring wide-eyed out at the group of parents and other dancers who are spectating.
“This one’s not ready either,” Sanborn hollers at studio owner and director Wendy Bradshaw. “They don’t have their clips in, they still need to go potty.”
Emily Taylor, 9, of Fairplay, is in Level 2 jazz and said she felt OK going into the recital, pointing out that she wasn’t nervous last year, either.
“I really like the costume; it’s blue and it’s sparkly,” she said of her own outfit, and the way it makes her feel? “Most of the time, itchy.”
In her second year of dance, Emily said her favorite part is getting to move a lot and it’s fun to wear the makeup and watch the other groups perform. Her dad, Trey Taylor, films her with his cellphone camera as she shrugs her shoulders and shyly answers questions.
“My dad’s here to see my recital,” Emily said with a big smile.
Backstage, Sanborn is once again herding the preschool group, all of whom seem to have now finished using the bathroom and are lining up to once again head out onto the stage. Sanborn said her favorite thing about teaching dance is watching the kids come in calm and reserved, and by the end of the year, at the spring recital, they are full of self-confidence and full of life.
“I love to watch how excited they are, their big smiles, and I love watching how excited the parents are to finally see them,” she said. “I think it’s a privilege to do what I do; it’s a privilege to be able to teach dance in a small community.”