In step with different rhythms

A five-week Westminster festival exposes students to techniques and styles of dance from around the world.

SUMMER In Carroll County

July 31, 2005|By Jill Stone | Jill Stone,SUN STAFF

Sitting on a wooden stool, her legs crossed and toes pointing to the ground, instructor Janette Sullivan called out advice to the dancers gracefully twirling in front of her.

"Keep arms up! Shoulders back! Nice and easy, girls," she shouts over the fast-paced music playing in the muggy, unair-conditioned dance studio. (The dancers choose to turn the air conditioning off to "keep their muscles loose," Sullivan said.)

She starts each day teaching ballet at the State of the Arts Dance Center in Westminster. Once the foundations of dance are covered, students then learn hip-hop moves and other dances from various instructors.

The first Westminster International Dance Festival, which lasts for five weeks, has brought to life hip-hop dancing, Chinese fan dancing, Irish step dance, swing and flamenco.

"There's a great deal of potential in this room," Sullivan said of the girls sitting next to her, gulping down bottled water.

Between the sudden spurts of giggles among the girls, Sullivan beams at her students.

"We know when there's a time to work and when to play," she said.

Founded by Sullivan, the dance festival started July 11 and will run through Aug. 12.

Dancers, who range in age from 10 to 25, spend eight hours each day practicing and rehearsing for the final performance Aug. 12 in the Scott Center of Carroll Community College.

"Everything is really a la carte," Sullivan said, explaining that dancers can enroll for the full five-week period, day by day, or by class. "They can do anything they are interested in. ... The hardest for them is to pick" which class to take, she said.

Sullivan, who has 30 years of dance experience and who has traveled all over the world, received the Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award for Choreography in 1997 and 2003.

In 2002, Sullivan decided to incorporate the State of the Arts Dance Center at the Airport Business Park. She said she wanted to broaden the opportunities for young dancers in the Westminster area.

Sullivan hopes that she can give her students a foundation in ballet before offering them classes in diverse dances.

Through this festival, Sullivan plans to expose the students to the rhythms of other countries and to teach them more about the techniques of dance, through her choices of music and dance styles.

"We don't even know what it is, but it sounds cool," Sullivan said of the Chinese fan dance she has scheduled for the festival.

"I don't think the community has had anything like this," she said. "I hope to make it a very renowned festival."

Kelly Weckesser, 18, a graduate of North Carroll High School, has been with Sullivan since the dance studio was opened. "The training here is on a completely different level," she said.

Jenn Reed, 22, of Westminster agreed.

"You're going to definitely see a difference in yourself," Reed said. "It's good to have a background in all kinds of dancing."

Hillary Keating, 16, of Westminster said she enjoys the intensity of the festival.

"I like that we get to dance every day," she said. "Having class every day makes your techniques stronger."

Sullivan said the best training times she ever had were the summers she went away to dance camps. Those were the times that she believed she really strengthened as a dancer.

Most of the students participating in the festival hope to dance professionally.

Sullivan is excited about the different dances that will be performed Aug. 12.

"We want people to know they can go to Westminster and see great shows," she said.

Sullivan is already planning for next year. She plans to focus on dances with Estonian folk music. "We're going to broaden out our aspect of eclectic dancing."

For more information about the Aug. 12 performance or about State of the Arts Dance Center: 410- 848-6048.

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