A passion to dance about

April 18, 2007, midnight | By Josie Callahan | 15 years, 7 months ago

Blair teens seek self-expression at Takoma Park Dance Exchange

Inside the walls of the Dance Exchange studio on Maple Ave., more than muscles are hard at work. Juniors Sarah Rothman and Suzanna Vaughan, along with six other teenage girls are deep in thought as they fan out onto the shining studio floor. The girls divide in two groups of four and each begin to talk and move to a mellow techno beat. After ten minutes of brainstorming, the girls have choreographed a 30 second dance. "Show me what you got!" says their instructor. With a confident smile, Rothman urges one of the younger dancers to begin. Taking the first of many risks, the young dancer allows Rothman and Vaughan to lift her into the air.

Within the Dance Exchange, the teen exchange program offers opportunities for community teens to lead workshops as well as formulate and choreograph self-enlightening projects. The exchange not only teaches dance, but also fosters friendships, self-expression, group work and involvement in the community.

Photo: Teens warm up during a Thursday night class at Dance Exchange. Photo courtesy of Josie Callahan.

Though the classes have a certain level of structure, "we have creative freedom and the opportunity to take our ideas and turn them into a dance piece," says Rothman.

Since its inception in 1993, the teen exchange has developed into a community of its own. Like the founder and choreographer and performer Liz Lerman, teachers at the Dance Exchange are dedicated to helping teens discover and express their emotions and thoughts through dances that exercise both the body and mind. Dance Exchange is among one of the few studios dedicated contemporary dance in the United States.

Risk it

Every year, the teen exchange takes on a new project, in which the students choreograph a dance which conveys a message about an issue in society or the community. The teens then perform their piece at a formal show in the spring.

This year, their performance, "The Risk Project," will explore the different types of risks and what it means to take everyday risks. Rothman says that the dance will convey positive risks, such as skydiving or romance, and negative risks, such as drunk driving.

Vaughan says she hopes to express her opinions of both beneficial and negative risk-taking through the choreography. "I think teens get associated with risk a lot because of the association with teens and drinking, drugs etc. I want to express how some risks can be positive in our life as well," she says.

Rothman believes that though it is an ambitious task, everyone in the class has contributed ideas which she hopes will come together to create a unique and thought-provoking piece. She is especially proud of the project because the teens in the Exchange came up with the idea together.

"We were having a meeting with some staff members and older members of the teen exchange...and [senior Lucia Sirota] said something about drunk driving and it just exploded from there," Rothman says.

The final product of "The Risk Project," which is scheduled to commence May 21 at Center Stage in Baltimore, promises to be "an exciting, unique, and emotional piece," says Rothman.

Teens take the lead

Through conducting workshops at schools and community centers in the area, the teen exchange also encourages the dancers to get involved and form bonds in the community. Vaughan regards the workshops as the most memorable and rewarding experiences throughout her participation in the program. "When I came to the Dance Exchange four years ago, I was not comfortable commanding a class.," says Vaughan. "Conducting workshops has really taught me how to command a group and act as a leader,"

Rothman enjoys workshops particularly because of the way people react to the dances and join in without second-guessing themselves or feeling self-conscious. "We have some pretty off-scale choreographing techniques, but people don't question it, they just go for it, which I think is so cool!" she exclaims. Not only do the dancers form bonds with those in the community, but friendships are fostered amongst them as well.

A unique bond

As a contributing member of the Dance Exchange community, Rothman has been taking classes at the studio since she and her mother participated in a class for toddlers and parents, and Vaughan has been an active member of the community for four years. Vaughan believes that one of the greatest things about Dance Exchange is the tight-knit community of a variety of teenagers who form valuable friendships over the years. "Though the program tends to attract the stereotypical artistic, hippy teens from Takoma Park, I have become close with some girls who I probably would not have met if it hadn't been for Dance Exchange," she says.

Rothman echoes Vaughan's feeling of family among the teens in her classes. "We're a very unique community- almost like a bunch of sisters! We count on each other for creative criticism and put our heads together to get new ideas for projects," she says.

Although the main focus of the classes is on modern dance and technique, Dance Exchange hires guest teachers to teach other dance styles. In the past, Vaughan says that Dance Exchange held a workshop on traditional ballet and Sri Lankan dancing with a professional.

Vaughan and Rothman have high hopes for the upcoming Dance Exchange performance and experiences ahead. Both accredit the teen exchange for not only dance training but also the friendships and memories they have acquired. "They want to make us as well-rounded as possible, as dancers and as people," Vaughan says.

Josie Callahan. Josie Callahan is particularly opinionated despite her small appearance. She loves everything Irish and her life is consumed by her one true love- Irish Dancing- which suits her just fine. She also adores British accents, performing, theatre, tiaras, and sparkly dresses. Josie is particularly excited … More »

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