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Columbia Gorge Dance Academy

The company in motion

Great journeys often begin with small steps. In this case, we’re talking dance steps.

For the seven 2012-13 Company dancers of Columbia Gorge Dance Academy, those steps began many years ago and are about to lead to a once-in-a-lifetime, televised performance in the Holiday Bowl, Dec. 26-30 in San Diego.

“We were invited to perform by the dance instructor who organizes these performances,” said Susan Sorensen, Company founder/director and co-owner of CGDA. “We actually were invited last year but couldn’t raise the travel funds in time to participate.”

Hopefully, that won’t be the case this year.

Sorensen is getting the word out early about the honor and opportunity her elite dancers have this year, in hope of gaining some community support.

“We need to raise about $5,600 for the troupe to travel,” said Sorensen. The dancers have already conducted several fundraisers that have brought in $2,500 but are looking for $3,100 more with two upcoming fund-raising events.

The seven young women leading the efforts to perform at the Holiday Bowl are: Hood River Valley High School students Ansley Bricker, 16, Sierra Johnson, 18, Mikayla Kiyokawa, 17, Claire Rawson, 16, and Sarah Scarborough, 17, joined by Dominique See, 17, of Columbia High School, and Megan Hobbs, 17, of Horizon Christian School.

On Aug. 27-29, the skilled young dancers will hold a “boot camp-style” dance intensive for young dancers aged 8-14. Operating from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. each day, students will receive group instruction and individualized coaching in basic jazz, hip-hop and contemporary dance skills. All levels are welcome and students may sign up by sending an email to Sorensen with contact information and the dancer’s age through the CGDA website.

A second fundraiser, a rummage sale, is slated for Sept. 1 and 2 and the troupe asks for both donations and buyers to come out and support the effort. The sale will be held at the CGDA building at 2600 May St. Donations may be dropped off on Aug. 31 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. or during the sale.

What many community members do not realize is that Company dancers have always been a volunteer-run organization separate from the academy.

Sorensen has, since the troupe’s inception, volunteered her time, and often paid for the performance costumes, to make the group accessible to anyone with the drive and talent to perform at the highest level.

“Company started in 2004 with 12 really committed dancers and myself,” said Sorensen. Each year, those dancers who have demonstrated both the greatest commitment and skill are selected to join the group.

Of the current troupe members, most began their dance studies as 4- or 5-year-olds. Rawson, who started as a competitive gymnast around age 5, shifted to dance as a 12-year-old. All of the young women share a deep and personal connection to their art form.

“I love performing. It is such a huge adrenaline rush and is so fun; just to perform in front of people,” said Rawson. “Gymnastics helped me a lot but it was hard at first. I didn’t know a lot of the basic things and that was frustrating. I stuck with it, though, and it became rewarding.”

“We get so many extra opportunities being part of Company,” said See, who shared that there were many times she thought she wouldn’t make it to the group’s skill level. “I just stuck with it and kept practicing.

“Really, dance is my life. I’m here about four days a week and dance about 12-13 hours a week,” she added.

For Hobbs, it is a feeling of overwhelming happiness that keeps her dancing.

“I feel this uncontainable joy when I dance. It is something I really love to do,” she said.

When asked how she handles learning a difficult new move, Hobbs replied, “You have to attack it as well as you can, but know you won’t get it right on the first try. You also shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.”

For Scarborough, the long hours in the dance studio are not a sacrifice.

“I’m up late doing homework and I don’t have as much free time as others, but I’d rather be dancing,” she said.

Scarborough’s dance life was a little less than traditional, spending her first three years studying hip-hop. In seventh grade, she took up ballet.

For the team, the opportunity to travel for a professional level performance in December is high incentive for their work today.

“Being able to take our own dancing out of our community and outside Oregon like this ... Well, something this big is really neat,” said Scarborough.

According to Sorensen, Company dancers will be working with a nationally recognized choreographer, Mandy Moore, to prepare the halftime show at the Holiday Bowl. Moore works regularly on the television reality show “So You Think You Can Dance.”

As part of the event, the young women will also participate in a dance conference and spend a day at SeaWorld with dance troupes from around the country.

“I think having the community’s support is a huge thing. Other companies at the game will be from big cities with lots of resources. It is really unusual for a small town to have this chance. It is good to know that our small town ‘has our back,’” said Rawson.

“The Gorge community has been super supportive,” said Sorensen. “We really appreciate that.”

For each of this year’s Company dancers, the future is sure to hold more dance steps.

“I want to major in dance and am looking at several colleges on the East Coast where I can do modern dance,” said See, who, along with Hobbs, teaches a dance class for kids at Project Open Door – an afterschool program for kids at Whitson Elementary.

As for Hobbs (see additional interview above), she’s scoping out big schools in big cities for her dance major aspirations.

Rawson and Scarborough both intend to keep active on college dance teams but aren’t sure they will pursue it as a major.

Johnson, Kiyokawa and Bricker were away for summer vacations during the Company interview but all share a commitment to keep on dancing no matter where their future careers may take them.

“More than anything, the seven of us are like a family. We spend so many hours together. We are always there for each other,” concluded Rawson.

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