Columbia troupe will visit sister city in France


September 23, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

Modern dancer Tara McNeeley, a 16-year-old Howard High school student, is packing something unusual for her dance troupe's next out-of-town tour -- a pocket French dictionary.

"I took French two years ago," said Tara, one of seven members of the Columbia-based Dance Dimension troupe who board a plane for France today for a visit to Columbia's sister city, Cergy-Pontoise, just outside Paris. "I've never been there before."

Next Friday, the Dance Dimension dancers will perform at the Fourth Town Twinning Festival in Cergy-Pontoise, joined by the French city's other sister cities in Germany and England.

The dancers will serve as "official ambassadors of the state of Maryland," said Jo Lamp, sister city coordinator for the Columbia Association, which for 17 years has acted as a liaison between Columbia and Cergy-Pontoise.

It is the latest in a series of international trips by the local dancers, who traveled to Tres Cantos, Spain, last year as cultural representatives and attended the International Children's Festival for Peace in Bulgaria in 1985 and 1988.

"We have had a good fortune to be able to have experiences with different cultures," said Marilyn Byers, the troupe's artistic director.

Mrs. Byers established the troupe for 6- to 20-year-olds nearly 15 years ago. Some students have gone on to become professional dancers.

"We're very excited to represent the United States, as well as Maryland and Columbia," Mrs. Byers said of the troupe's trip to France. "It's an opportunity to meet people . . . and share ideas about art."

At the festival in Cergy-Pontoise, Dance Dimension will perform seven pieces, including "Tom O'Bedlam," which examines how people at an insane asylum were released into society and given a license to beg in 13th and 14th century England.

" 'Tom O'Bedlam' talks about how we haven't changed that much," Mrs. Byers said. "The homeless situation is similar to today. We try and utilize metaphors as much as possible."

The troupe also will also perform "Rain Forest," a piece on ecology and the destruction and preservation of the rain forest.

In addition, the Dance School of Cergy-Pontoise has invited the American dancers to attend dance classes.

"I hope the students are learning living skills while dancing. That's my philosophy: how to exist and support one another," Mrs. Byers said.

To pay for the trip to France, the dancers, six of them in high school and one in college, raised their own funds. They will pay $10 a night to stay in a French university dormitory.

The dancers have been rehearsing three or four times a week at Slayton House in the Wilde Lake Village Center.

William Dufford, 17, the only male in the group, doesn't speak French but still expects to have fun.

Having taken only one year of Spanish, he did fine when he traveled with Dance Dimension to Spain last year, he said.

"I think you can really learn a lot about the culture without speaking the language," said William, a senior at Sandy Spring Friends School in Montgomery County who became a dancer after watching music videos. "My prior interest when I was younger was athletics, and after athletics came music. Maybe I like dance because it combines both."

For Mrs. Byers, the high-flying modern dance troupe reflects years of promoting the arts among young people.

She was responsible for developing the gifted and talented dance program in the Howard County public schools and a magnet school arts program in Prince George's County.

Mrs. Byers, who has been interested in dance since she was a child, was inspired by a dance teacher who visited her high school in West Virginia to pursue an art form that she sees combining the body, mind and soul.

"It became my dream to put dance in public schools," Mrs. Byers said. "I still believe every individual who wants to dance should

be able to."

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