Beth Fischer, Elizabeth Reed and Libby Smith wanted to do something more than a videotape montage or poster display for their final school project. Instead, the three 17-year-olds produced and choreographed their own ballet.
This Sunday, they and five other dancers will perform in an hourlong dance concert at the Slayton House Auditorium in the Wilde Lake Village Center.
The concert will benefit the Ellicott City Ballet Guild.
The girls are part of Howard County Public Schools' Mentor Program in which eleventh- and twelfth-graders work with adult professionals outside the classroom.
Under the program, students are required to keep a personal journal describing their experiences and must create a final project that solves a real-life problem or accomplishes a major goal.
The program's goal is to teach students how to learn throughout their life.
"If we can teach kids how to learn we've really taught them something significant," said Sara Parrott, a gifted and talented resource teacher at Mount Hebron High School who supervised the girls' final project.
They chose to do a dance concert as their final project for the yearlong program because "this sounded the most challenging and interesting," said Libby, a senior at Mount Hebron High School.
"If we were going to do a video, we would have been learning video terms," said Beth, a junior who is graduating a year early from Wilde Lake High School.
Since December, the girls have been working feverishly behind the scenes, holding auditions, scheduling rehearsals, creating a budget, designing and making costumes, and choreographing dances that feature as many as eight dancers at once.
"It's been a lot of work," said Elizabeth, who wrote the news release. But the Oakland Mills High School senior said she's glad she did the project. "It's given us the perspective of putting on a show. Instead of being dancers it gives us more perspective."
All three girls are students at Caryl Maxwell's Classical Ballet School, the official school of the Ellicott City Ballet Guild.
As their mentor, Ms. Maxwell helped the girls arrange dance rehearsals and put them in contact with individuals who had experience putting on dance concerts such as the Guild treasurer, costumer, publicity chair and even light director.
"It's really been a massive undertaking," said Ms. Maxwell, who is participating in the Mentor Program for the first time.
"I think what really surprised them was the amount of time it took to organize everything. This is one of the few things where you can't [change the] deadline."
Ms. Maxwell noted that the girls have "learned a lot about the business aspects of our school. Up until now they only had to learn their own dances."
The girls say they have a new appreciation for choreography.
"The more we tried to do, the more our steps looked the same," said Libby, who added that "a little repetition is fine, but too much would be boring for the audience."
"Your brain gets dry," Beth said. "It's the same music and it repeats."
Elizabeth said the hardest part of choreography for her was communicating her thoughts to other dancers. "It was hard to transport to dancers what I wanted," she said. "It was harder for them to understand."
Each girl choreographed one group piece. The girls said they let music inspire their movements.
"It's just what comes out," Libby said. "If the music is sharp, then it's contemporary."
"I just kind of listened to the music," said Elizabeth, whose dance music includes jazz.
At the suggestion of their parents, the girls will chronologically perform Romantic, Classical and contemporary dance forms.
Although the performance is barely a week away, the girls said the reality of it has not sunk in yet.
"I won't feel that accomplishment until I hear the audience clapping," Libby said.
Tickets cost $5 for general admission and $4 for students and seniors. For more information, or to order tickets, call (410) 465-3547.