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35 students find that shapes and spaces play a role in dance, too


CONNECTING SHAPES and creating interesting spaces between them sounds like painting class, but a dance workshop at Oakland Mills High School last week demonstrated that shapes and space are not limited to the art room.

About 35 students used their bodies to create dramatic shapes under the tutelage of professional dancer Rebecca Anderson, a former member of the renowned Pilobolus Dance Theatre and current member of Pilobolus TOO, an offshoot dance duet that presents small-scale modern dance performances and programs for schools.

In the modern dance style for which Pilobolus is noted, the Oakland Mills students worked together to create free-form poses. Then, with a rhythmic pattern of carefully executed and coordinated movements, the "shapes" seemed to come to life as though they were organisms. The dancers' bodies moved together with such fluidity that it was easy to forget that each group was made up of individuals.

"It's not like going to a dance class where you do plies and tendues," said Oakland Mills High School dance instructor Cynthia Stephens. "Dance becomes more creating shapes and space."

This modern dance style relies on physical connections between performers. But connections of a different sort culminated in this visit. Stephens and Stacie Lanier, also a dance instructor at the school, secured the coveted visit through a mutual friend, dancer Marilyn Byers. Byers met Anderson and other Pilobolus dancers years ago when the troupe came to town to perform in the Columbia Festival of the Arts.

Byers has a significant connection with the public school system. About 20 years ago, she introduced dance into the curriculum of county schools.

"I fought a big battle to have dance in Howard County schools," she said, adding that her efforts resulted in Howard's becoming the first county in the state to incorporate dance into its curriculum. Byers teaches dancers privately in her dance program, the Dance Dimension, at Slayton House in Wilde Lake.

Byers and Stephens have had many students in common over the years, including Lanier, a 1993 graduate of Oakland Mills High and a protege of both dancers.

Anderson was in town last week to help Byers launch her dance company, FreeFall Dance. It was not difficult to persuade Anderson, 30, to come to the school.

"I think these high school dance programs are really important," she said, noting that her high school in California had a strong program in dance.

Stephens also had no trouble persuading Oakland Mills Principal Marshall Peterson to approve the workshop.

"Our principal is very supportive of the entire fine arts program," she said.

"All you have to do is sit here and look around to know it's a good decision," said Peterson, watching the dancers. He saw a connection between the dance skills and academic disciplines. The emphasis on fluidity of motion, in particular, reminded him of physics.

"They will leave here and have a real-world application when they go into other classrooms," he said.

Lanier is grateful for the connections that enable the students to work with top-notch professionals such as Anderson. As a result, she said, many Oakland Mills graduates have gone on to become professionals. "It's so exciting for us to have all these connections," said Lanier, founder of a new Baltimore dance company called Connections.

Artists connect

Three artists have combined their work for "Prints and Woodcuts," an exhibit at the Columbia Association Art Gallery in Long Reach. Anne Bottomley, Shawn Lockhart and Phyllis Wright will display their work until May 27. Information: 410-730-0075.

Safety patrol honored

Alex Horter, a fifth-grader at Jeffers Hill Elementary School, has been named Outstanding Safety Patrol for Howard County schools.

"He is an excellent role model and very responsible," said Jeffers Hill Principal Steve Zagami.

Alex was honored Friday at an assembly during which he was presented with a plaque and a $100 U.S. Savings Bond from AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Parting words

Last week's TV Turn-off Week reminded many of us to go easy on the remote control, but Fran Fico, assistant principal at Dasher Green Elementary School, said two television programs had a positive influence on her as a child.

"When I was a little girl, my absolute favorites were 'The Roy Rogers Show' and 'Sky King,'" she recalled.

She does not remember the premise of 'Sky King,' but she does recall that "he flew around in a little single-engine plane."

She said the shows had such an impact on her because "they did the two things I wanted to do, fly and ride horses."

She fulfilled her dreams, first at age 13, when she saved enough baby-sitting money to pay for horseback riding lessons, then in college, when she became a friend of someone who "flew me around in a little single-engine plane."

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