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(Above) Their moment on stage. Members of The Dance Express Company performed their piece, “Paranomia,” which takes place in an institution for the insane, before an audience of more than 2,000 at “The Pulse,” an intensive training weekend in New Jersey. Front row, left to right are: Taylor Falvey, Kimberly Watkinson, Taylor Agee and Ryanne O’Connor. Back row, left to right are: Lillian, Amanda Beauchemin and Jessica Piela. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Weigand-Watkinson.

Local dancers train with celeb choreographers Dancers shared the stage with ‘So, you think you can dance’ choreographers.

By BRENDA SULLIVAN Staff Writer bsullivan@remindernet.com

NORWICH — Performers such as Alicia Keyes, P-Diddy and Jennifer Lopez have turned to these choreographers to help them shine on stage and in music videos. For one weekend, seven young dancers from The Dance Express Company of Norwich also had a chance to benefit from their talent. Among the choreographers was Mia Michaels, one of the choreographer-judges for the popular TV series, “So, you think you can dance.” — “She’s a dance goddess,” said 19-year-old Kimberly Watkinson from Norwich, one of the Dance Express students who had a chance to work with Mia Michaels.

Another high point of “The Pulse”, a two-day conference held in New Jersey, was when three students – Kimberly, Lillian Cook, and Amanda Beauchemin – were hand-picked by Shane Sparks and Laurie Ann Gibson, out of hundreds of other students in the class, to join them on stage for a demonstration of hip-hop choreography.

Gibson is known for her work on the reality series, “Making the Band,” and for working on music videos with such stars as Alicia Keyes, the Dixie Chicks and P-Diddy. “We were told that ‘Making the Band’ [producers] were there, scouting for dancers,” said Jennifer Weigand-Watkinson, owner of The Dance Express Company.

The students had worked hard before the conference to raise money to pay their way. They held car washes – sometimes in the rain – held a bake sale, sold handmade Christmas ornaments, and sponsored a pasta dinner for which they cooked, served, performed and then cleaned up. They also have put in many hours as dancers, studying jazz, tap, ballet, hiphop, pointe, lyrical and improvisational techniques. While dance is about movement and expression, it’s also about a certain kind of friendship, said 12-year-old Lillian, of Montville. “I like dance because I like to express myself, but also because I like being with other people who like to do the same thing. We can all have different personalities, but we come together and harmonize with each other,” Lillian said.

Invited to Summer Dance Fest

Each day at the conference was jammed with classes. “It was dance, dance, dance and a 45-minute break for lunch, then more dance, dance, dance,” said 11-year-old Amanda Beauchemin. Amanda added that probably the best part of the experience for her was being able to perform in front of such accomplished choreographers. Unfortunately, workshop particpants were not allowed to take their own photographs of the choreographers.

Classes ran from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Still, they said, the girls found a little time for enjoying the experience of staying at a hotel, a bit of shopping, and dinner at the Olive Garden

. The group also included Jessica Piela and Taylor Falvey, and Dance Express faculty Melissa Kocon and Renee Chenette. The students received a “Performance Pick” award for a piece entitled, “Paranomia,” danced to the music of The Art of Noise, and were invited to perform again at the Summer Dance Fest 2007 in New York City.

While it was sometimes nervewracking, the whole experience was “thrilling,” said 14-year-old Ryanne O’Connor. “It helped my technique, it challenged me. It was a lot of fun.” The students also said they enjoyed being exposed to “edgy” styles of hiphop, and other variations on some of the techniques they learned.

Another familiar face at the conference was choreographer Chris Judd, who has moved on to start his own series, “Dirty Dancing.” Judd has worked with – and at one time, was married to – Jennifer Lopez.

Rubbing elbows with celebrity choreographers was “a lot of fun,” said 12-year-old Taylor Agee, from Sprague, who added that she enjoys dance because it gives her the freedom to open up and express herself.

Their teacher noted that The Dance Express Company is a performance group, as opposed to a company that competes. “They are there to entertain, to make sure that everyone has a good time, whether it’s an audience of one, or 100,” said Jennifer Weigand-Watkinson.

The company has performed at a number of community events, including the Preston Congregational Church Scarecrow Festival, the Greenville Community Day Celebration, the National Night Out and Multicultural Fair, the Wal-Mart Health Fair, and the Taste of Culture in New London.

The next big trip for the students will be attending the upcoming Dance Educators of America conference.

For more information about The Dance Express Company, call the studio at 886-1555 or visit the Web site at www.DanceExpressLLC.com.

(Below) A shared passion for the dance. The Dance Expresss Company encourages students to explore several styles of dance, and focuses on entertainment instead of competition. Below, some of the company’s students (L-R) Amanda Beauchemin, Lillian, Taylor Agee, Kim Watkinson and Ryanne O’Connor. Photo by Brenda Sullivan.

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