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Point Park hosts 1,300 high school dancers for nationwide auditions

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Friday, March 4, 2016, 5:06 p.m.
Dancers begin a ballet class at Point Park University on Friday, March 4, 2016.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Dancers begin a ballet class at Point Park University on Friday, March 4, 2016.
Vernon Brooks, a student at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, participates in a contemporary ballet class at Point Park University on Friday, March 4, 2016.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Vernon Brooks, a student at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, participates in a contemporary ballet class at Point Park University on Friday, March 4, 2016.
Amaria Stern, a student at Booker T. Washington High School in Dallas, participates in a contemporary ballet class at Point Park University on Friday, March 4, 2016.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Amaria Stern, a student at Booker T. Washington High School in Dallas, participates in a contemporary ballet class at Point Park University on Friday, March 4, 2016.
Dancers rehearse in a contemporary ballet class at Point Park University on Friday, March 4, 2016. High school dancers from around the world will come to Point Park to perform for the country’s top dance schools, including Juilliard, in the hopes of earning college scholarships. It is the largest event of its kind, and this is the first time it has been held in Pittsburgh.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Dancers rehearse in a contemporary ballet class at Point Park University on Friday, March 4, 2016. High school dancers from around the world will come to Point Park to perform for the country’s top dance schools, including Juilliard, in the hopes of earning college scholarships. It is the largest event of its kind, and this is the first time it has been held in Pittsburgh.
Jeron Sanders, a student at the New World School of the Arts in Miami, participates in a contemporary ballet class at Point Park University on Friday, March 4, 2016.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Jeron Sanders, a student at the New World School of the Arts in Miami, participates in a contemporary ballet class at Point Park University on Friday, March 4, 2016.

Natalie Foti and Airu Matsuda traveled 15 hours on a plane to get to Pittsburgh, but the steps they make this weekend have a chance to take them much farther.

The two attend Newtown High School of Performing Arts in Sydney, Australia. They came to audition for possible college scholarships for dance by attending the National High School Dance Festival March 3-6 at Point Park University, Downtown.

More than 1,300 young dancers from around the world came to perform for the country's top dance schools, including Julliard, in the hopes of earning college scholarships. They also took dance classes from top instructors at the event, the largest of its kind. It is the first time the high school dance festival has been in Pittsburgh.

“The thing with learning a new dance is you might not know where you are going at first, but you just follow the steps to find out,” says Matsuda, who got a callback from his initial audition. “Dancing is awesome. I love it. There is nothing else like it. It takes you places you may never have been.”

Foti, who also got a callback, agrees.

“When we dance, we are in another world,” she says. “We aren't thinking about what to have for dinner or what to study in school. Dance allows us to be creative. It gives us a chance to express who we are. Without saying a word, we can make people smile, laugh, cry through dance moves. We are fortunate to do what we love, and being here is a unique opportunity to take those steps on the dance floor in a new direction.”

The event was at the George Rowland White Performance Center and Lawrence Hall on campus, as well as Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts school and the Byham Theater, both Downtown.

There were 65 participating universities. Most set up exhibit and vendor stations, where dancers could talk with school representatives.

Juilliard has filled its next class but would be looking for dancers for future years. The school has a fairly extensive audition process, says Juilliard's Larry Geddes.

Interest in dance is growing, and the television competition shows might have some effect on it, dancers agree.

The festival was started 27 years ago by founder and Executive Director Kathryn Kearns in Philadelphia. She says it's an opportunity to take classes with master teachers and a variety of classes.

Kearns has connections with several members of the dance community in Pittsburgh.

“This is not just for elite schools; any high school can apply,” she says. “It's a wonderful opportunity for these schools to showcase their dancers and programs.”

After researching that it had the facilities, hotels and restaurants to host the festival, as well as a large performance venue, Kearns says Point Park was a perfect fit. This event is usually held during the host college or university's spring break. It's for students in grades nine to 12. Each school can bring up to 10 students and is responsible for the expenses.

Classes encompassed everything from ballet to tap to modern contemporary to hip hop. Participants came from all over the United States, as well as Australia, Taiwan and Canada.

It has been an amazing experience, says Molly Rohrer, of Squirrel Hill and a senior at CAPA, after taking a ballet class.

“I didn't realize how big this event is,” Rohrer says. “It's a wonderful experience, and to see it all happening here in Pittsburgh is pretty special. It is cool to bring an art event to this city, which people might not think of as a big dance performance city. But we have some talented dancers here.”

Jeron Sanders, a junior at New World School of the Arts in Miami, says the opportunities for dance at this event are endless. He auditioned for a chance at a college scholarship.

“It's an honor to be here,” he says. “It can be overwhelming because there is so much going on, but it's a good overwhelming. There are so many good dancers and amazing instructors. I love dancing because there really are no rules besides the proper technique. You do what you feel. A scholarship could change the course of the steps of my life.”

It could, says Ruben Graciani, chair of dance and associate artistic director for Point Park's conservatory of performing arts. This is such an extraordinary opportunity for Point Park to recruit youths and for students to visit with other schools and meet other dancers and instructors. It also showcases Pittsburgh, he says.

“It can help them be put on a path for their future, and it saves money because they can see so many colleges and universities in one place,” Graciani says. “They can see different levels and how much more they may have to work to get to a higher level. It fosters relationships and helps them grow as individual dancers. It's powerful to see kids follow their dreams. It shows their commitment to dance because they decided to come here because of dance. Each step they take can make a difference.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. She can be reached at jharrop@tribweb.com or 412-320-7889.

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