Got a new attitude

Published 10:29 pm Saturday, August 15, 2009

ROME TOWNSHIP — The staccato beat of a Guns and Roses song spits out of the CD player as the cluster of teens in black leotards twist and turn in halting synchronicity.

Silently they count out the steps they’ve worked to master for the past three days. Staring at their reflections in the wall mirror at the studio at the Jeslyn Performing Arts Center, these Fairland High teens may be novices at dance, but concentration glows in their faces.

Seconds into the song, the music stops as instructor Summer Ogg wants a redo of the dance pattern. She goes over a couple of missteps, then asks for questions.

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“Yes? No? Maybe?” she says. “I’m not going to help this time. I’m just going to watch. You need to get the attitude and the time.”

This is day three of dance camp for this year’s Fairland High School Dance Team, whose mission is part cheerleader, part artistic ensemble, performing at football and basketball games, assemblies and competitions.

For four hours a day during the first week in August, 11 girls showed up at the center to practice, practice, practice. Half of the girls already knew the drill.

They’re dance team veterans. The others learned what it means to perform.

Founder of the dance team is former Fairland grad and professional dancer Jessica Fox, who started the arts center in Huntington, W.Va., after she returned to the area four years ago.

What she wants in the team are not girls with years of dance on their resume.

“It’s raw natural ability that you can train and the right attitude,” Fox said. “Be unafraid, uninhibited, have a sense of humor, support your team members and be a positive energy.”

Those are the qualities she looks for at the auditions the girls must go through each year, whether a new member or veteran.

Hannah Adkins has gone through auditions for the past three years to get on the team. There she gets to show off her skill at following choreography and handling improvisation.

“When you dance in front of an audience, it all falls together,” Adkins said. “It is really cool for the audience to see how much work we put into it.”

However, the fun of performing is short-lived and when graduation day comes it’s over for those seniors as far as dance team shows go. Yet the experience from those few years of performing can offer its own unique teaching tool. Both students and teacher agree.

“It gives you a lot of confidence to do anything in life,” Carmen Franklin said. “It will stick with me. I will probably still have that confidence.”

That’s a point of view Fox says she has seen time and again in her students.

“This has opened the door for a lot of girls to a different way of thinking. It’s the confidence, the ability to know you can achieve, even if you have no clue how to start.”