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Feeling street beat in their feet


Sixteen-year-old Anneke Collins has been dancing since she was 9, and has trained in ballet, modern, jazz and other dance styles.

But the quick, sharp movements of hip-hop dance were all new to the Columbia resident as she followed professional dancer Ellen Rath on Tuesday through a series of shoulder pops, leg swivels, turns, bounces and pivots.

"It makes me laugh at myself," she said. "It's moves our bodies are not used to."

Collins and six other local teenage dancers spent three days in intensive workshops this week learning a routine of classical, hip-hop, jazz and b-boy (also called breakdancing) moves that are the hallmark of the Nebellen Dance Company, based in Phoenix, Ariz.

Today, the young women will take their steps to Jim Rouse Theatre stage during Nebellen's two performances. The shows are part of the Columbia Festival of the Arts, which ends Sunday.

"Nebellen's style incorporates everything," said Benjamin Perez Howe, who co-founded the company with Rath. His background is in club dancing, and Rath trained in ballet. "When we get together, our choreography is all over the place," he said.

That was a challenge and a draw for the local dancers.

Having a dance background helped the teenagers pick up the choreography, but, Collins said, the tough part is "getting the style part of it: the attitude, the style, the look, the pop."

The routine also includes lifts, in which several of the young dancers will be carried by male members of the professional company, and some fast-moving b-boy steps that had the young women sliding and rolling on the floor, twisting their legs and flipping over.

"It's an opportunity to do a different kind of dance," said Emilie Reinhard, 15, of Columbia. "It opens your eyes to different things."

Reinhard, who has many years of dance experience, said she enjoyed the fact that there is more freedom in hip-hop dancing. "Once you know the steps better, you can really get into it. You can put your own style into it."

Alex Schieken, 17, of Columbia, has taken hip-hop dance classes for several years, and agreed that the individual touch makes it fun.

"There are so many different types [within hip-hop]," she said. "And then you conform to your own style on top of that."

For Schieken, learning some tightly controlled b-boy moves was a challenge after focusing on the looser hip-hop styles in the past.

"It's a lot of fun," Collins said. "They [members of Nebellen] are really helpful. They don't make you feel intimidated."

She added, "I want to be a choreographer, so this gives me another style to work with."

In addition to the more intensive residency, the Nebellen dancers held three workshops this week teaching a broader group of youth popping and locking, leaps, turns, jazz, gymnastics and other steps.

In its own performances, Nebellen "brings street dancing to the stage," Howe said.

The group strives to attract younger audiences to see dance performances, and to show dance fans that street dancing styles are a valid art form, he said.

Everyone can enjoy "the energy, the fierceness of the dancers onstage, and the humor," he said. "What we do with choreography, we take things and twist them."

There are also elements of freestyle and improvisation, Howe said. "Dancers have to be confident in both parts."

As for the newcomers, "Getting the feeling of some of the moves takes a little while," Rath said, but the students "seem real receptive. They seem like they're having fun."

And for a few minutes today, the spotlight will belong to them.

"This is their piece," Rath said.

Nebellen Dance Company will perform at Jim Rouse Theatre, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are $25, $35, and $40 with discounted tickets available for students and senior citizens. Information and tickets: www.columbiafest ival.com, or 410-715-3089.

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