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South River High dancers hope they go over big Down Under ANNE ARUNDEL EDUCATION


Their thoughts turned to kangaroos, koalas and alligators in the land Down Under.

The 13 South River High students hope to catch a glimpse of such wildlife when they head to Sydney, Australia, for a dance tour from June 13 to June 27.

"I just want to see a kangaroo," said Cristin Orr, a 14-year-old freshman. "Really, that's all I want."

After the school's dance group, the South River Dance Company, played host to Australian students participating in a national dance competition in the United States last spring, visiting Australia seemed like an opportunity too good to be missed, said dance teacher Judi Keck.

The trip will cost about $1,500 per student, most of it coming from dance company fund-raisers. The students, who will stay with host families at private homes, are to perform their modern dance numbers at the Performing Arts Festival at Newtown High School and at the Sydney Schools Regional Dance Festival.

Ms. Keck, who took her first formal ballet class when she was 35, has been teaching dance and physical education at South River since the school opened 16 years ago.

"Dance is one thing you can do for life," she said. "You have to think to be able to do it. It keeps your body in fantastic shape, and it allows you to be creative and express yourself."

She tries hard to arrange trips for her students so that they get a chance to broaden their performance experience. But the farthest the dance company has traveled is Norfolk, Va.

"Never in a million years did I think anything like this would happen, but we lucked into it," said Ms. Keck. "I travel a lot, but a lot of these kids have never been on a plane, have never been away from home, and I think it's really gutsy that they're willing to do this."

The student dancers seemed less worried about their performances than about what their Australian host families will think of them.

"I just want them to think we're really neat people and that we have a lot of talent," said Amanda Hofstetter.

Missy Henderson, a 16-year-old sophomore, said, "Miss Keck works you so many weeks in advance. Sometimes you wonder why you're doing something because the performance is not for weeks."

"But when you go out there, it's just like practice. A performance is really like a party. And all that practice takes some of the apprehension out of it."

The girls aren't apprehensive about the trip either. They've got it all figured out.

"It's a 19 1/2 hour flight -- that's three meals, four movies and a nap," said Missy.

She and the other dancers have already started packing, and they're bringing American flag pins and clothing with "USA" and "Annapolis" printed on it as gifts for their host families.

They're probably also packing birthday presents. Two members of the company will celebrate their birthdays while they're away.

"I mean, who gets to spend their 16th birthday in Australia?" asked Lindsay Norton, a sophomore who turns 16 June 24. "I'll be telling people about it for the rest of my life."

Chrissy Carper will have the honor of having the first Australian birthday celebration. She'll turn 15 on June 15.

They girls are eager to learn about Australian culture, most of it anyway.

Vivian Curry, a 16-year-old sophomore, says she's afraid to try a popular Australian vegetable spread.

And 14-year-old Amanda is a vegetarian who probably won't be sampling lamb, an Australian favorite.

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