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Towson-area students to perform at national dance education conference

Students from West Towson Elementary School practice at the school Wednesday in preparation for their performance Saturday at the annual conference of the National Dance Education Organization in Arlington, Va.
Students from West Towson Elementary School practice at the school Wednesday in preparation for their performance Saturday at the annual conference of the National Dance Education Organization in Arlington, Va. (Rachael Pacella / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

This Saturday, 21 students from Towson-area schools will take the stage in Arlington, Va. to perform dance routines at the National Dance Education Organization's national conference.

The event draws dance instructors from all over the world, according to its website. Towson-area students will be featured during the event's "Student Sharing Concert" Saturday. Six high schoolers from The George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology will perform a dance choreographed by fellow student Jada Clark, titled "The Broken Ones." From West Towson Elementary School, 15 students in grades 2 to 5 will perform a piece titled "Idiomatic Feet Speak."

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Both performances were submitted to the conference for consideration, and then chosen as two of the nine groups that will perform Saturday.

Maria Royals, dance department chair at Carver, described the convention as one of the largest of its kind, adding that she attends it every year.

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During a rehearsal at West Towson Elementary on Wednesday morning, second-grader Molly Bolan-Pyles captured the excitement the children share about the performance Saturday as she prepared for practice.

"We're going to be famous," she said.

Generally, the students said they were excited for the performance, because they would be on stage and also because they will visit a suburb of Washington, D.C.

Alvin Ailey II dancers Jessica Pinkett and Courtney Spears return to their Baltimore roots for performance at Towson University.

"I'm kind of nervous, and I'm kind of excited," second grader Sophia Mroz said.

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The theme of the dance education conference this year is "Speaking with Our Feet," so to match that phrase, West Towson's dance teacher, Karen Kuebler, devised a routine that uses movement to convey common foot-related idioms, such as "best foot forward" or "foot in the door."

The students also will carry signs containing information about famous dance instructors, and will hold up the signs during the performance as Kuebler calls the names of the teachers. The students are "following in the foot steps" of the educators, Kuebler said.

Kuebler said she held an open call for Saturday's performance, meaning that any student in grade 2 to 5 was welcome to participate.

During the rehearsal on Wednesday morning, students stretched and danced while holding up the signs. In dance class, movement is less about learning techniques, such as jazz or ballet, and more about creativity and using dance to respond to ideas, Kuebler said. When devising the routine, Kuebler provided the idioms, but the students generated the ideas for the movements.

Dance is beneficial to students, Kuebler said, because when they dance they think better, learn better and the lessons stick better.

The participating dancers from West Towson include Molly Bolan-Pyles, Ferris McDermott, Eliza Mealey, Kiera Mohr, Molly Mohr, Sophia Mroz, Serendipity Piercey, Hudson Salazar, Nitara Sen, Ruhi Shanbhag, Gabrielle Smith-Johnson, Isabella Smith-Johnson, Maggie Vadarevu, Gabryelle Webb and Sitong Zhao.

Clark is ready

A group of students from Carver also will perform Saturday. Junior Jada Clark will perform a piece she choreographed, in which she will dance alongside classmates Maya Clark, Kelsey Corbett, Alexis Farrar, Chelsea Mitchell and Kayla Nias. Clark wasn't supposed to perform, but one of the dancers, Nicole Ford, was injured unexpectedly last week, making the change necessary and adding a layer of pressure to the performance at the national conference. But Clark said she'll be ready.

Clark, 16, of Woodstock, choreographed her piece at the end of the 2015-2016 school year as part of a composition class, a mandatory course for student who focus on dance at Carver, a magnet school for arts and technology, which was also recently named a National Blue Ribbon School. In the year-long composition class, students first analyze dance movements, then craft their own routines, which are performed by their peers.

"The Broken Ones" has a contemporary influence but mostly reflects Clark's own style, said Royals, the school's dance chair. The piece is the first she has choreographed for others, Clark said. It is performed to the song "In this shirt" by The Irrepressibles. Clark said she first heard the song in middle school, and always kept it in her head when she practiced dancing. Now, she's finally able to put those thoughts into actions.

"I listened carefully to the instruments, and how they started low and then slowly built up and progressed over time," Clark said. "Just the vibe that the music gave me is hope, so I figured I should start from whatever hope comes from, which is struggle, so the dancers start off to struggle and then as the music builds up the movement builds up and the idea is more positive toward the end."

Clark wrote a proposal for the piece to be considered for performance at the conference, in which she described how she developed the piece. Royals said she sent Clark and other students reminders to submit proposals over the summer, but the students wrote the proposals on their own.

That was a valuable lesson, Royals said, because if students continue to perform they'll need to write more proposals in the future.

"She's a pretty ambitious girl," Royals said of Clark. "She's not one to let an opportunity pass her by."

After she graduates from Carver, Clark plans on studying dance in college.

The performance is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington. It is open to friends and families of performers.

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