LEWISTON — As in a scene from “Fame,” dance instructor Dana Reed circled her students on the Olin Arts Center stage.

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight,” Reed drilled Tuesday. The teenagers leaped. They twirled. They pointed toes and moved legs forward and backward while gracefully holding out arms.

In a different building, another dance class was in full swing. Some 50 youngsters, ages 6 to 8, followed teacher Patrick Ferreri in the Benjamin Mays Center.

“Now we’re going to dance with our eyeballs all around the room!” Ferreri said. “Make sure you see all the way up to the stars, and all the way down to China.”

The children, some wearing Lewiston-Auburn sports shirts, giggled and moved around looking up, then down.

Welcome to the Youth Arts Program, a community outreach of the Bates Dance Festival, in which some of the best professionals from around the country teach kids from the community.

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This year’s program includes 73 students, ages 6-17. For three weeks they learn and practice. At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, they’ll perform their big show in front of an audience. The young performers will open the finale of the festival, which attracts professional dancers from around the world.

The Youth Arts Program was created 17 years ago by Jane Weiner, who came to the festival as a dancer, said Youth Arts Program Director Dana Reed of New Orleans.

On her own, Weiner brought in children from the community and taught them so they could perform, Reed said. Since then, the program has grown.

“You have the Bates Dance Festival going on,” Reed said. “You don’t want to seclude it from the rest of the community because it’s such a wonderful thing.”

Involving children is a way to involve the greater community, she said. “You get the kids involved; you get the parents involved. They get their friends involved. It’s fun and cool. It opens up whole new cultural experiences for the community.”

In her class, students were learning modern techniques of dancing, which incorporated ballet. Some had studied dance for years; others were trying it for the first time.

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Emma Moorhead, 14, of Bath, has attended for nine years. “It’s taught me a lot about movement and music and dance,” she said.

Reed was recently awarded an artistic residency in Indonesia, she said. “The fact that I live in Maine and get to experience this — I’m really lucky.”

This is the first year for Fatuma Haji, 16, of Lewiston. She dances hip-hop, but this was her first exposure to modern technique. It was difficult, she said, “but it’s fun. … It’s a good thing.”

In the 6- to 8-year-old group, children were practicing dancing in lines and moving across the floor. Ferreri had his students bounce, jump, walk and stand on their hands, “upside down, you should be able to see everyone behind you,” he said as he demonstrated.

Vinnie Hanran, 7, of Sabattus said he liked the program. “It’s pretty good. There’s a lot of dancing involved.” His favorite parts were hip-hop and art.

Lily Collier, 7, of Topsham, said she was having a lot of fun. Besides dancing, “we get to do art and music.” She confided that she has a musical part in Saturday night’s show.

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Ferreri, a yoga and dance teacher from San Francisco, said the youngsters were learning basic body awareness, weight, rhythm, standing in line and following rules, “all these things that make us great artists,” he said. “We need to think to be creative, but we also have to figure how to relate to the rest of the world through order and rules.”

If his students never danced again, that would be OK, he said. He hoped they would gain a few tools and vocabulary they didn’t have before.

Reed said she wanted her young students to gain self-confidence.

“Our goal is not to produce the best dancer in Lewiston, Maine,” she said. “Our goal is to expose these children to as many forms of dance as we can, as many styles as we can, visual arts, so they can find their strength,” and discover who they are.

The arts can help an individual think differently, Reed said.

“Even if it’s not an art background they go into, to be successful you have to take a leap in something,” she said.

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[email protected]

Go and do

What: Bates Dance Festival finale, featuring young dancers and other performances

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 7

Where: Alumni Gymnasium, Bates College, Lewiston

Tickets: $6

FMI: 786-6381; or http://www.batesdancefestival.org/EventNotes/finale10.php


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