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Midvale Journal

Hillcrest’s Dance Company three-peats with superior marks at state festival

May 08, 2023 10:54AM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest High’s Dance Company got superior ratings and the Outstanding Student Choreography Award at the Utah High School Dance Festival. (Photo courtesy of Christina Kelly)

For the third straight year, Hillcrest High’s Dance Company earned superior marks at the Utah High School Dance Festival.

“We were so excited,” senior Courtney Kelly said. “It was great ending to many hours of rehearsals and for that day, in particular, being a long day.”

However, the day wasn’t quite over. The three Hillcrest dance company officers—seniors Leah Ahlander, president; Lily Greenwood, vice president; and Kelly, secretary—won the Outstanding Student Choreography Award for their piece named for their year-long theme, “Vitality.”  

“We were so happy. Only a few schools get this special recognition,” Kelly said, who also serves as Hillcrest’s student body public relations officer.

The dancers’ day began at 3 a.m. on March 11 when the school bus departed Hillcrest for St. George. Once the squad arrived, the girls joined about 40 other schools who were participating in the Utah Dance Education Organization’s dance festival. 

Hillcrest student-dancers took a technique class from a Snow College professor and then choose classes in jazz, hip hop, contemporary, modern or improv. 

“I took jazz class with a professor from University of Wyoming and then a contemporary class with a professor from Westminster College. They were fun classes,” Kelly said. “In the jazz class, I learned how to be really sassy and how to go along with a really fast count. In the contemporary class, I learned how to stay grounded in the movement and to not internalize when I dance, but instead to think outward and follow my hands. In the technique class, we created movements based off words and how we felt. For example, we danced to ‘grab and fall’ and ‘happy and sad.’ Another thing we did was pair with a partner, then one of us closed our eyes and danced to the music and our partners guided us.”

In the afternoon, Hillcrest performed two pieces for adjudication. One, a swing-jive dance, was titled, “Swing, Swing, Swing,” and the other was “Vitality.”

“It was a lot scarier because we were in a gym. Granger High’s dance company was watching us as well as the three judges at a table. It was hard to adjust to performing in the gym because we’re normally on a stage,” she said. “Then, there was a problem with the speaker, so our music sounded different and that threw us off. Thankfully, it all turned out.”

Immediately following their dances, the judges gave Hillcrest feedback.

“For ‘Swing,’ they told us even with a very high energy dance, we need to use our breath to relax. We were also told that we should start out happy and smiley and grow that energy throughout the whole piece rather than express high energy the whole time,” she said. “With ‘Vitality,’ they liked the choreography and were very complimentary. They really liked the ripples and different elements and thought everything moved like a waterfall, which is interesting, because we didn’t have that in mind when we choreographed it. In the adagio section, they suggested we bring the energy outward instead of inward.”

Kelly said they used that feedback in preparing for their mid-April final dance company concert, which was to feature 11 different dances.

Even after receiving the feedback, Hillcrest’s Dance Company had to wait for their results.

“When they announced our superior marks and gave us the trophy, it was so much fun. Then, with ‘Vitality,’ Lily, Leah and I were so happy that our hard work paid off,” she said, adding the trio received a certificate. “Our intention was to illustrate the theme and create a pretty piece that highlighted everyone strengths in the company. In the back of our minds, we were hoping our company would get superior marks and earn this award.”

Kelly began dancing at a young age, first performing as a mouse and a sugar plum page in Mountain West Ballet’s productions of “The Nutcracker.”

“I started dancing when I was 3, and I’ve just loved it ever since,” she said. “I fell in love with ballet when I was 8 and started dancing at a ballet studio. I’m still doing jazz and lyrical, but I’ve focused on ballet because that’s my favorite style. I like the precision of it and that there is a right and wrong. I love the feeling of jumping in the air and feeling graceful and when you get all the steps right—it’s perfect.”

After dancing all four years at Hillcrest, this was a capstone.

“Dance Company is a very positive environment,” she said. “This definitely been my favorite year. I love these girls and we’ve really bonded and connected. I’ve loved our concerts; we have a ton of different dance styles so I feel like I can really do every style of dance. I’ve liked learning from all the guest choreographers and performing in St. George. I loved our summer New York trip and what we learned there. There are so many opportunities to dance there; we saw dancers on Broadway, took a class from a Rockette, went to a Broadway Dance theater, and took dance classes, but going to the New York City Ballet was my favorite thing ever. Overall, we’ve had so much fun together. I’m going to miss it.”

However, Kelly isn’t hanging up her ballet slippers yet. She’s received college scholarships for dance, and she plans to study ballet at Brigham Young University. Eventually, she wants to teach ballet.

“I love dance because it makes me forget everything else that I worry about,” Kelly said. “I just get a high from dance, like I’m in my own world. I’m just the happiest when I’m dancing.” λ