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Showcasing the many styles of dance

Those looking for a quick introduction to what’s happening in the dance world could spend a bundle on a whirlwind excursion to Manhattan.

Or they could drop by Howard Community College this Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 9 and 10, where faculty and students are mounting the 11th annual Howard County Community Dance Festival.

This showcase for professional and student dancers is a welcoming place to brush up on dance technique and to discover youthful talent who relish the opportunity to show what they have learned to their families and friends.

“This celebration has become an important event in the dance community in Howard County,” said Valerie Lash, dean of Arts and Humanities. “It has become a sharing and learning opportunity for area dancers as they showcase their work and experience the work of others.

“I would like to add that the college is happy to host these talented dancers from throughout the community to this joyous celebration of dance. HCC dance faculty, headed by Elizabeth Higgins, coordinator and associate professor of dance, and Darion Smith, assistant professor of dance, have worked hard and are proud to bring this wonderful festival to our community.”

Higgins, who has been involved with the festival for the past seven years, has “passed the torch” to Smith, who recently moved from the West Coast to join the HCC dance department. The HCC Dance Festival is a collaborative event between the Howard County Arts Council, Arts & Humanities Division and the College Dance Program.

“The festival grew out of a desire to reach out to young dancers in Howard County and to expose these students to high-level professionals,” said Higgins during a rehearsal break in the HCC dance studio.

“This year we’ve teamed up with the Maryland Council for Dance and awarded our first scholarships to two young dancers,” Smith said. “The festival is truly a gift to the community which would not be possible without the generous and continued support from the Howard County Arts Council.”

Both Higgins and Smith continue the festival’s vision to bring the dance community of Howard County together by offering participants the opportunity to experience a diverse range of dance styles.

This time around, the kids can take classes in hip-hop, Irish dance, contemporary ballet repertory, Bollywood and jazz among other dance styles.

“Students take master classes, see companies perform and have the chance to perform in the Smith Theater,” said Higgins. “For the gala programming, we rotate invitations to a variety of artists. Our goal is to provide participants with a unique experience and give a wide range of artists the opportunity to showcase their companies.”

Choreographers and companies include Mat Elder, based in New York City, Nancy Flores from DC and Maryland’s Lucid Beings, Jayamangala and Pacing Bodies. Joan Nicholas-Walker and Jes Powell will represent the college.

While the roster of professional dancers may change each year, local dance studios remain constant. Ballet With Cindee Velle and Kinetics are regular participants, along with Central Maryland Youth Ballet, Dance Connections, Project C and several other local studios.

“We have been participating every year since the festival started in 2008,” said Cindee Velle, director of her Columbia dance studio and company, “It is a great opportunity to arrange the dancers into classes with master teachers in a variety of disciplines. And it gives them more experience to perform in their own community.”

Elizabeth Kline, who works part time at the village center, commented on performing with Velle’s troupe and attending the HCC dance workshops. “It was wonderful, and you get to take master classes with different teachers…the whole experience was great.”

When asked about returning to the weekend festival, Emily Rose Brock, a sophomore at Wilde Lake High School, looks forward to Broadway dance. The festival is a first for Kafui Attipoe, a Bonnie Branch Middle School student who follows in her older sister’s footsteps.

“I like learning new choreography and showing off our costumes is cool,” said 12-year-old Kaitlin Otten, a student at Resurrection St. Paul School in Howard County.

Velle’s dancers will compete this spring in national events, so this weekend’s showcase is a bonus. Timing also helps as some of her senior dancers will soon be heading for college, an opportunity to look at HCC and to meet dancers from professional companies and college program directors.

“The coolest thing about the festival is that it brings kids together to see what’s out there, and it’s nice to meet other teachers,” said Cindee’s daughter Amy Moran, a choreographer for the festival.

“HCC takes good care of my dancers…and my family,” Velle emphasized, as she prepared to fit costumes on her dancers. “The hospitality of the festival committee is great and the teachers are excellent. It’s a win, win weekend for all.”

The HCC Community Dance Festival Gala Performance, featuring professional dance companies, will take place at Howard Community College’s Smith Theatre Saturday, Feb. 9, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door. The Student Showcase is scheduled in the same theater Sunday, Feb. 10. Go to howardcc.eduboxoffice or call 443-518-1500.

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