Island dancers train with stars

Dancers Kelsey Lampe and Sierra Schallock practice a contemporary dance move with professional dancer Joy Spears.

Music flooded South Whidbey High School as Island Dance students twirled and leaped under the tutelage of two internationally renowned dance stars this past weekend.

During the two-day workshop, Joy Spears and Barry Youngblood taught contemporary dance classes to 30 dancers ranging from ages 8 to 18. Spears was one of 10 top female dance competitors on the second season of the hit Fox television show, “So You Think You Can Dance,” and has performed with Lady Christina, Britney Spears, and many other entertainers.

Youngblood has worked with the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Paula Abdul and Jennifer Lopez. His choreographic repertoire includes work for Nike, Skechers, Saga and Reebok.

Jamee Pitts, artistic director of Island Dance Performance Team, a dance competition group, says the caliber of dance training offered in these master classes was exceptional for the dance studio. In the workshop, dancers were exposed to dance technique and style from areas of the country that are beyond the scope of their usual training.

“I think bringing their style from Los Angeles and other areas of the country will be a huge impact on the dancers,” she said. “Especially on this little island where we usually only travel as far as Tacoma to compete in competitions or attend festivals.”

The dancers are accustomed to taking classes from professional teachers at competitions or festivals, but rarely on the one-on-one level that the workshop provided.  Typically, master classes consist of hundreds of dancers.

During the first session of the workshop, those with more experience worked on contemporary choreography taught by Spears. She glided across the stage demonstrating a series of flowing movements. Then, the students broke into groups and danced these same steps to the music, trying to emulate the professional instructor.

Between performances, Spears offered corrections and advice to the students. She remarked on the dancers’ wide range of strengths and explained the importance of learning from others.

In another room, Youngblood was energetically teaching a group of younger dancers his hip-hop moves. Students executed a handstand with bent knees and finished upright with a crossed-arm pose.

The teachers switched groups for the second part of the day.

Pitts initially contacted Youngblood and expressed her interest in organizing a workshop for Whidbey Island dancers. She wasn’t sure if the performing team could afford the cost of bringing such well-known and respected professionals to the island, but determined the experience would be well worth it for students.

“For our girls to be in a space with this level of teacher-choreographer, who’s seen in the world as such an amazing artist, it really isn’t about a dollar figure,” Pitts said.

She reached out to the island community for support.

Island Dance provided the financial backing for the event. Whidbey Island Dance Theatre, a pre-professional dance company, also encouraged their dancers to participate. Saratoga Inn provided lodging for Spears and Youngblood.

Students felt that the training from the workshop strongly improved their dancing.

Megan LeMay, 18, is part of Whidbey Island Dance Theatre, a non-profit dance company in Langley. She resonated with Spears’ feedback about the importance of identifying fellow dancers’ strengths and trying to apply them to her own dancing.

Island Dance student Niki Taylor, 9, enjoyed Youngblood’s class.

“I really like Barry because he encourages me to move further, he pushes you,” she said.

Pitts hopes to hold another dance workshop next year, possibly adding classes from other genres, such as ballet.

“There were so many amazing memories made over the weekend,” she said. “The girls really didn’t want it to end.”