LEWISTON — When Ryan Morrill, 25, began teaching hip-hop dance classes to teenagers at the Tree Street drop-in center about four months ago, he didn’t expect them to last long.

“I was expecting it to get very stale for me, very stale for them,” he said. He didn’t think the students would practice outside of class, and he could understand why they wouldn’t: His own mother had forced him to continue with dance lessons against his will when he began 13 years ago.

But when he arrived for the second week of class, he found a group of students there early, eager to show him the routine he’d taught them the week before, which they had worked to polish ever since. That convinced Morrill, of Auburn, to keep volunteering with the kids, and to expand his time commitment from two lessons a week to four.

“I gave up my social life,” he said. “If I have to bring my son in from time to time, it’s fine, whatever works” to keep the kids dancing.

In just a few months, the number of students participating has gone from four to about 20, Morrill said, and they’ve become a cohesive group.

“They’re definitely a crew,” he said, using a hip-hop term for dance, music or graffiti groups. “Everybody seems to be connected.”

On Monday evening, Morrill and the students waited in a Bates College classroom to show the product of their hard work in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day show at Schaeffer Theater. While the first acts were on stage, Morrill worked with some of the troupe to learn new moves, demonstrating precariously balanced poses and even letting one student hold him upside down and spin him on his head.

Morrill learns as much from the students as he teaches them, he said, explaining that they’ve introduced him to new music and dances, and aspects of Somali, Puerto Rican, and other cultures that he was never exposed to growing up in Leeds. Watching the kids attempt their own spins, leaps, and headstands, he looked both amused and excited by their progress.

“I feed right off of them,” he said.


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