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Dancing into HCC arts center

The Baltimore Sun

As Howard Community College's new dance company rehearsed last week for its first show, the table full of swords was one sign that the group was not planning a traditional recital.

Other clues included the people tap dancing with cell phones, the singer strumming a guitar and the young man spinning on his head.

With "OurSpace: A Dance Theatre Performance," which opens Thursday, director Jenny Male and more than three dozen performers are hoping to make a splash by incorporating numerous dance genres, stage combat, live music, video and other types of visual art into one diverse show.

"It is my way of transitioning into that world of dance performance and still having a theatrical element to it," said Male, who has directed plays for the college's Student/Alumni Arts group.

"It was important to me to include all forms of art into the show to celebrate the college's new visual and performing arts building," she said.

In recent years, HCC's Student/Alumni Arts organization has sponsored several theater productions each year, an improvisation troupe and open-microphone nights.

With the addition of Male to the dance faculty and the opening of the Peter and Elizabeth Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center in August, the student/alumni organization decided it was a good time to give dancers more opportunities to perform outside of class-based recitals.

"I really wanted to help them understand what goes on in the professional world," Male said, " ... and do something different."

She said a production such as "OurSpace" allows dancers and other artists to work together, experience auditions and more rehearsal time and use professional-quality sets, costumes and lights.

She said the experience of being part of a larger show is "so hard to capture in class, or in a showcase. You don't get a sense of what it is to be part of something bigger than you. ... I think that is very important for everyone in the arts, no matter what you're studying."

The project drew a diverse group of dancers -- including students, alumni and community members with professional experience -- by incorporating ballet, tap, modern, ballroom, hip-hop and African dance, musical theater, improvisation and breakdancing.

The thread that ties the acts together is a theme of identity and communication on the Internet, from expressing one's personality online to meeting others there.

Although the show contains no explicit content, some of the ideas explored are best suited to those who are 14 and older, Male said.

"At a studio, you usually do one type of dance," said Lindsay Polt, 20, of Laurel, who appears in six of the show's segments. "I think it's great that we're so diverse. We have so many things to offer and show people."

Polt, an HCC student, said the dance department's move from a crowded basement room with a cracked mirror to the new center -- which has two spacious dance studios and a professional-quality black box theatre -- is "not even like night and day. It's like going from a shack to the Taj Mahal."

John Bouman, an HCC economics professor, dances professionally on occasion with Mary Jo Brenner, a retired high school teacher.

Bouman said, "With the new facility, it's definitely a great time for a company or something more professional than in the past to develop here."

Bouman and Brenner, both of Clarksville, open the show with a modern jazz and ballroom dance combination that depicts two people meeting online and then meeting in person.

Bouman said he has enjoyed putting his dance background to use as part of a larger group.

"It is definitely cool to be part of a company atmosphere," he said. "Everyone kind of socializes every night, and you see the other dancers dance."

Brenner added: "When you work with young students, it keeps you young at heart."

The concert also is an opportunity for some local choreographers, including students, and HCC staff members and other professionals, to see their work come to life.

One student, Shayla-Rene Little, 22, of Columbia, approached Male with an idea for a dance when she heard about the project.

The number she created, to India.Arie's song "I Am Not My Hair," incorporates ballet, modern, jazz, hip-hop, swing, hand dancing and a little tap, said Little.

"It feels good to have an idea and then for it to actually come out and flourish," she said.

She also said that being part of a full-sized production as a choreographer and a dancer made her plans for the future -- which include starting an artistic day-care and arts outreach program -- seem more realistic.

"Seeing it actually happen gives me hope I am moving closer to my dream," she said.


"OurSpace" will be performed Thursday, Friday and Saturday and March 15, 16 and 17. All shows are at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12 for general admission and $10 for students, senior citizens and groups. Information: 410-772-4900.

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