Teens who train at Urbana Dance Studio are making their mark in the wider world.
In March, three dance team members performed in the Washington National Opera’s production of French composer Charles Gounod’s opera “Faust” at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
In June, four dancers will perform at the United World Games in Klagenfurt, Austria. Urbana High School ninth-graders Kate Wills and Taylor DeGirolamo, junior Eliza Tews plus senior Cali Davis (who trains elsewhere) auditioned successfully for roles as acrobats/tumblers in the opera.
“This is the first time the girls have been presented with this kind of opportunity,” said Sonja Davis, Urbana Dance’s owner and artistic director. “One of my guest teachers is working at the Kennedy Center, and she reached out to the girls to audition. My ballet teacher, Robin Griffin, works at the Kennedy Center part-time helping backstage, so she was able to help the girls get to and from after school.”
Kate Wills, who has 13 years of dance training, the past two at Urbana Dance, takes classes and/or attends rehearsal six to seven days a week. Her application included still photographs and “videos of me doing particular tumbling and acrobatic moves.” She and her fellow acrobats did six performances as well as a dress rehearsal with an audience.
Wills, who said she loves performing, admitted that “it was a little scary at first, but in the end, it was amazing.” She treasured most “the opportunity to work in a professional setting and perform on the Kennedy Center stage.”
“It was even better than what I expected,” Wills added. “Not only did I tumble, but I got the chance to act, which I also really like doing.”
The girls’ performances made Davis proud. “The kids acted like professionals and learned a great deal from this experience. They shined on stage,” she said. But it was no surprise to her. “Our dance team students are very talented dancers and tumblers who are involved in school activities, their communities. They are honor roll students, and they juggle a very heavy dance education and competitive schedule.”
All dance team members were invited to take part in the United World Games Dance Tour. Kate Wills, along with Brooke Burns, Abby Talmage and Ellie McCleaf, will take the June 16 to 25 trip, which will include stops in Munich, Salzburg and Venice. The girls will have “an opportunity to learn from other instructors in the different countries, learn about different cultures, and most importantly, perform in front of thousands of people,” Davis said.
Chelsea Cooper, a choreographer, teacher and performer who works at both Urbana Dance and the Vienna, Virginia-based Adrenaline Dance Studio, was selected to choreograph the opening number for the World Games, Davis explained. Cooper assembled a group of 26 dancers, ranging in age from 7 to 18, to perform her piece.
“The dancers all come together on Sunday nights for two hours at Adrenaline,” Davis said. “If they can’t make the rehearsals, they attend a scheduled make-up class at Urbana Dance. We want these dancers to be successful, so Chelsea and I work together to create the opportunity in their busy schedules to accommodate them learning the choreography.”
Working with Adrenaline’s dancers has taught Urbana dancers “to learn that other studios can work together and not worry about the competition between us,” said Davis. “Adrenaline and Urbana Dance are both providing a wonderful opportunity for our future artists to be educated, exposed to and be successful in the industry. It is all about teaching and preparing our students for different experiences.”
Kate Wills “couldn’t pass up the chance to represent my country doing what I love to do every day,” she said. “I am so excited to be able to see places in Europe and also perform in front of 80,000 people.”
Despite her substantial commitment to dance, Wills “honestly doesn’t know” what she will pursue as a career. Still, she believes that the Kennedy Center shows and the Dance Tour “are developing me personally and as a dancer. Personally, it’s teaching me time management by helping me learn to keep up with all of this and my regular dance/school schedule. It’s also helping me develop skills working with other teachers/professionals. which will help me later in life with college and my career.
“As a dancer, I am growing, learning from new choreographers and directors and performing with new people.”