Ballet residency classes keep young dancers on their toes


MANY DANCERS dream of going to New York to make it big. But recently, New York came to three teen-age dancers from Long Reach.

The girls participated in the Dance Theatre of Harlem's residency, an education program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. Camille and Kalen Workman and Kaitlin Davin spent two hours on most Saturdays, February through last month, learning technique from Lorraine Graves, a former principal dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

For eight weeks, the girls donned dance gear and headed to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, where they took classes in the "Young Ladies" level of the program with about 15 other dancers.

In a recent class, Graves scrutinized every movement: the placement of elbows, the motion of hips, knees, and of course, feet. There was no babying - the girls repeated the movements until Graves was satisfied. Even the way the group walked forward to take its place during practice was open to comment.

"If I were the casting director and I asked for the next group and you came up like this," Graves said, as she mimicked a boring saunter, "then I would just say, 'Next.' "

The girls retreated to the barre and came forward again - this time bouncing with enthusiasm. With that perfected, Graves reminded them to smile.

This is the 11th year that the Dance Theatre of Harlem has offered the program, which was started in 1993 when troupe founder Arthur Mitchell was one of five recipients chosen for the annual Kennedy Center Honors.

"The troupe is a touring company," said Jeanette McCune, program manager of community partnerships for the Kennedy Center's Education Department. "They wanted to reach out to the cities where they perform."

Washington was the first home for the satellite program, which was so successful that the company started programs in London, Los Angeles and other cities, McCune said.

The program offers dance students a glimpse of what the professional world is like. They are taught by company dancers and often observed by Mitchell.

About 140 students, chosen from about 350 who auditioned, participated in the company's residency program. Auditions were open to dancers ages 7 to 18 at all levels of experience. Class levels range from Ballet I to Young Ladies and Young Men groups. After completing the first eight weeks, the dancers were invited to audition to become part of Phase II, another eight-week program that ends with a performance at the Kennedy Center's Opera House in June.

"You get to be taught by well-known dancers, and it's fun," said Kaitlin, now in her second year with the program. "They really pay attention."

"I've never danced with a professional program before," said Kalen. "It's something different, and you get to meet new people."

"It's a different kind of dancing than I'm used to," Camille said. "It's faster."

All three girls have been dancing almost since they could walk.

Kalen, 17, and Camille, 15, started dancing when they were 4 at Ballet with Cindee Velle, the dance program at Stonehouse in Long Reach Village Center. Kaitlin, 13, started dancing when she was 6 with Ballet Royal in Long Reach. They have been competing for years and winning prizes.

Kaitlin says she hopes to become a professional dancer and plans to attend a workshop with the Pennsylvania Ballet this summer. She also plans to audition for Baltimore School for the Arts, a public high school that provides dance training, as well as programs in visual arts, music and theater.

"Dancing really does wonders for her confidence," said Kaitlin's mother, Edna Knox-Davin. "She's normally pretty shy. This comes naturally to her."

Camille and Kalen also hope to dance professionally. Camille plans to attend a workshop with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York this summer.

"Dancing helps the way you think," Camille said. "It's also a great form of expression."

"When you are sad, you dance to a sad song," Kalen said. "When you are happy, you dance to an upbeat song."

"When I'm finished, I am so relaxed," Camille said. "With all the school work and other pressures, it's great to relax."

"The girls have always loved dancing," said Glenn Workman, Camille and Kalen's father. "From a very young age, they danced every minute they had an opportunity. They used the sliding glass doors in the basement for a mirror. It was like they were in class all the time."

In addition to preparing them for professional careers, their residency with the Dance Theatre of Harlem may have other benefits for the young dancers.

"We have heard from parents that the class has helped children learn to manage their time, concentrate and focus," McCune said. "It also helps with spatial thinking, which is ideal for mathematics and other academics."

Last year, Kaitlin was chosen to appear briefly on stage with the company.

"I was scared. I thought I would mess up," she said. "I had to hold a pole. It was heavy, I thought I would drop it. It was really fun to see the principal dancer perform. It was a blessing to be on stage with her. The whole experience was just wonderful."

Information about the program or for tickets to the June concert: Jeanette McCune, 202-416- 8825 or www.kennedy

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