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Ballet masters got their start at Laurel High poms squad [History Matters]

For the Laurel Leader

The first pompom squad at Laurel High School was organized in the 1969-1970 school year. That first group of girls, sponsored by history teacher Margo Lambros, was "a drill and performing unit" that "presented half-time entertainment and marched in parades" according to the 1970 Laurel High yearbook, the Rambler.

That first squad included junior Kim Williams and sophomore Cheryl Whitney, who met in a social studies class taught by Bernie Riefner. Williams recalled that she and some friends wished there was an alternative to cheerleading and majorettes that was more dance-oriented. Whitney said that Williams talked her into trying out.

Since the school year had already started, the squad was not prepared to perform at football games. They made their debut in makeshift uniforms at a basketball game in the Laurel High gym. Both remembered that the initial performance was "very well received" by the students.

"It was exciting because it was different" said Williams. Whitney said that she "really enjoyed it."

When they performed with the Laurel High band on the track at the Laurel Race Course (now Laurel Park) on International Day, Williams recalled that it was a rainy day and that "the horses threw mud everywhere."

Whitney said Williams helped her later that year prepare for a high school talent contest, which was Whitney's first attempt at performing.

Both women on to distinguished careers in ballet, which saw them perform and teach around the country. But decades later, their lives have come full circle as they now teach together at Central Maryland Youth Ballet School in Columbia, owned by Williams and her husband.

Williams, who uses her full name "Kimmary" professionally, has been dancing since the age of 4. Her family moved around quite a bit, which prepared her for the "vagabond" life of a professional dancer, as she calls it. It wasn't until her parents bought a house in Montpelier (they were original owners) and she started high school in Laurel that she went to the same school for more than a year. They put down roots in Laurel and Williams went to Laurel High for four years.

Williams says she "always knew" she would be a dancer. Teaching came naturally to her and she remembers assisting her ballet teacher when she was 12 or 13 years old. After attending the University of Maryland as a dance major, and performing with a regional dance company while in college, she moved to New York to continue her career as a professional. She continued her studies at the Joffrey Ballet School and with Twyla Tharp, and toured with Tharp's company, the Connecticut Ballet and American Contemporary Ballet.

Tharp was choreographer of the 1979 film "Hair," and cast Williams as a dancer in the movie. Williams appeared in numerous dance sequences in the film.

"It was supposed to be in the summer but it was shot in New York's Central Park in November," Williams said. "They had to blow the snow off trees and attach fake leaves."

Her teaching career continued the vagabond life she knew as a performer. She taught with the Connecticut Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Princeton Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Pittsburgh Youth Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Ballet Spartanburg, the Cecchetti International Summer Camp, Ballet Austin and Southold Dance Theater.

Her husband, Jacob Rice, followed the same vagabond life as a professional dancer and teacher, and he has performed and taught in many of the same companies with Williams. He has performed with the Virginia State Ballet, Connecticut Ballet (where he and Williams met), Pacific Northwest Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Princeton Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Fort Worth Dallas Ballet, Dance Alloy Theater, and Southold Dance Theater. His teaching credits include Miami City Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Ballet Spartanburg. Rice also appeared in a film, the 1986 "Nutcracker: The Motion Picture," where he appeared as the fighting Nutcracker.

Rice and Williams also spent two summers in Scotland creating a youth dance choreographic workshop for the Edinburg International Festival.

Whitney took a much different path to becoming a ballet master. Unlike Williams, Whitney says she didn't know what she wanted to do after high school. She never studied ballet until she was in college. A pianist, she had a double major of English literature and music at St. Lawrence University in New York. She also found a new passion in college — riding show horses.

It was just happenstance that she wandered into a ballet class on campus and was intrigued. She says her years of piano study made ballet seem natural to her, and she never looked back.

She went on to Indiana University where she received a master's in ballet, and then performed at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., and in Chicago. In addition to being the artistic director of Reverence Dance Co., she has taught for more than 25 years at the Princeton Ballet School. Whitney has also taught at the Brandywine Ballet, Peabody Conservatory, Princeton University, Howard University, Rider University and Indiana University. Whitney received the Audrée Estey Award for Excellence in Dance Education.

Together again

In 2005 Williams returned home and she and her husband opened the Central Maryland Youth Ballet, a professional ballet school in Columbia, where Rice continues to perform. For the first seven years the school moved a few times to find the right space, but has been in its permanent home on Berger Road for five years. Williams says "running a ballet school is 24/7."

For the past few summers, while Whitney visits her mother in West Laurel, she serves as a guest teacher at Central Maryland Youth Ballet School, reuniting the high school friends. When asked if retirement was being considered, Williams said "Ballet teachers don't retire — they die in the studio."

Contact Kevin Leonard at info@theleonardgroupinc.com or 301-776-9260.

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