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Midvale Journal

Inspiration, lessons from New York inspire Hillcrest’s Dance Company this season

Feb 03, 2023 09:18AM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest Dance Company poses outside of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City. (Photo courtesy of Hillcrest High Dance Company)

When Hillcrest High Dance Company president and senior Leah Ahlander stepped onto stage for their December showcase, she used the inspiration she gained from their New York City workshops in mid-October.

“It was really cool,” she said. “We took in a lot of workshops. We took a class from a Broadway performer and got to learn part of a dance from ‘Moulin Rouge,’ which we saw on Broadway. It was really neat because we could talk to him about the show since we had seen it the night before.”

While Ahlander’s favorite style of dance is modern, she said the “Moulin Rouge” dance combined hip-hop with contemporary dancing.

Students from the 30-member Dance Company spent all day taking classes at the Broadway Dance Center. 

They took a class from a former Radio City Rockette, where the Dance Company was told they had to learn the routines quickly, so they had time to rehearse to polish it.

“She told us that you cannot let yourself blank out during rehearsal; you always need to put in 100%. It gave us a reality check that we need to always put in effort to get better,” Ahlander said.

The high school dancers also saw the New York City Ballet.

“When we saw the New York City Ballet, the dancers are on the stage for 20 minutes at a time and never dropped themselves or go out of that mindset. The stage presence was incredible,” she said.

They also saw the show called “The Jazz Continuum” — “that dance show was filled with live jazz music and improvisational dance,” Ahlander said.  

Before they departed The Big Apple, the group took in “Hadestown” on Broadway, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Highline, Chelsea, Central Park and Times Square.

“We were able to get a taste of New York; it was really dance heavy, which is what we wanted,” she said. “I learned that dancing comes in all shapes and different forms and the outcome can look different on everyone. We saw and talked to so many different dancers and performers in New York and learned how they got there. It was fun to hear their different stories because I want to go into dancing after high school and New York University and Fordham University are places I’m looking at going to for school.”

Ahlander got into dance when she was just 18 months old. Her mother, Julie Johnston, graduated with a master’s in fine arts and is a dance teacher. She followed her older sister into dance.

“I did a mommy and tot dance class and then just kept dancing ever since then,” she said. “I’ve been on Hillcrest Dance Company since my freshman year and before that, my sister was on Dance Company, so I got to see those concerts and knew I wanted to be part of Dance Company.  I love dance. Sometimes, there are days when I feel ‘I don’t want to do this,’ but I always leave happier and feeling good.”

Ahlander said Dance Company is a supportive community.

“I appreciate the environment that Dance Company creates; it’s welcoming of everyone and we create a family. There’s not any drama and everyone’s very nice to each other,” she said.

The group has had fun, dressing in bright workout clothes and leg warmers and headbands to dance a 1980’s routine for homecoming to a flowing, graceful performance at their December showcase. They also perform at assemblies, in the high school’s musical and other shows.

Ahlander said that the techniques they’ve learned from New York as well as from taking early morning ballet classes has helped “strengthen our techniques and ability.”

Throughout the year, the Dance Company has embraced their theme of “Vitality,” which the presidency, including seniors Lily Greenwood as vice president and Courtney Kelly as secretary, chose.

“We choreographed a piece to that theme for our opening assembly and it sets the tone for the year. We feel the power of dance is giving us drive in life and things we looked forward to,” Alhander said. “For our big April concert, we all can audition a piece we want to choreograph. Then, our adviser, Chelsea Lujan, picks the top 10 who get to choreograph for the concert. I think what we gained from New York is the approach, ‘go big or go home’ with our dancing and just knowing that making mistakes is human. We can learn off those mistakes and then keep going and grow.”