LEWISTON — About 100 young dancers from states across the country are on a dance career path that has led them to Maine and the Bates College campus this month. They came here for the chance to learn from the best, and four Maine residents are among the participants immersed in this experience.

Zack Betty of Standish is aiming for opportunities with major dance companies. He expects that the hours he devotes to classes in the Young Dancers Workshop, a part of the annual Bates Dance Festival, will be a springboard to a big city career.

Heather and Kiah Baxter are sisters who live in Lewiston not far from the college, and they are making new friends and learning about the ambitions of others as they take many hours of classes.

Dan Mason of Minot enjoys the challenges and rewards of this unique program, but he said he’s happy with a small town atmosphere in which to develop his talents at this point.

In recent years, the Young Dancers Workshop program has become a centerpiece of the internationally-recognized Bates Dance Festival. The program fills quickly. It’s a demanding program meant for the serious dance student 14-to-18 years of age who has already put in three years of continuous training prior to enrollment.

Laura Faure, festival director since 1987, said the key to a dance career is getting exposure to the professional world of dance. That happens mostly in major cities, so the intensive class opportunities with a faculty of world-class teachers, performers and choreographers on the Bates campus is invaluable.

Enrollment was expanded to 100 this year, according to Faure, and participants are here from, among other states, California, Florida, Texas, Montana, Georgia, Maryland, New York. About a quarter of them are returning this year.
Faure said the Young Dancers Workshop is the first time that many of the students have found themselves putting in eight-hour days of dancing.

The schedule of 90-minute sessions throughout the day includes ballet, modern dance, jazz, hip hop, Afro-Caribbean, modern repertory and improvisation. All of the classes have live music accompaniment.

This year’s faculty gives the young dancers a chance to meet and work with some famed figures of the dance world. They include Kate Weare, whose professional company presented a public performance on July 11.

The young dancers move among several locations on campus for the classes. Some take place in a Chase Hall lounge; others are at Merrill Gymnasium and the Gray Athletic Building, and there are classes a short distance away at the Lewiston Middle School.

Students are housed in Bates dormitories, so there’s lots of time to make new friends and share stories. They also meet together for meals at the college’s new dining hall.

Karl Rogers, who assists Faure and is also a modern dance instructor in the program for young dancers, recalled that he took part in the Bates Dance Festival programs several years ago and he went on to join a major dance company in New York City.

“It’s a big thrill to see dancers come up in the city and tell you they were in the Young Dancers Workshop here at Bates,” he said.

Rogers also pointed out that the Bates program often gives young dancers their first glimpse into what the professional world of dance is all about.

Other advantages to taking part in the Young Dancers Workshop include the networking opportunities and help with plans for continued training and choosing colleges.

The Bates Dance Festival, now in its 27th year, is comprised of four interwoven programs. Its two professional training programs are the Young Dancers Workshop and the Professional Training Program serving dancers ages 18 and up. There’s a main-stage performances series featuring renowned contemporary dance artists from around the world, as well as community outreach activities including the Youth Arts Program for local youth ages 6 to 17 with dance and music training, and the Community Dance Project that invites local residents to participate in an intensive creative collaboration on alternate years with a choreographer and festival dancers.

The various elements of the Bates Dance Festival take place through August 8.

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