Three students represent Centennial at this year’s Howard County Dance Festival

Members of the Centennial dance program were chosen as members of the 2023 All-County Dance Performance Ensemble at this year’s Howard County Dance Festival

(Karen Jackson/for Baltimore Sun Media)

(Karen Jackson/for Baltimore Sun Media)

Julia Bianchini

Dancers took their beginning pose as the curtains of the Atholton High School stage opened. The intense music and moody lighting set the tone as dancers from all 12 Howard County high schools began to showcase their talents, leaping and jumping in unison.

The All-County Dance Performance Ensemble opened this year’s Howard County Dance Festival, performing their piece “Guardians at the Gate” which showcased twenty seven dancers from across the various Howard County high schools. Junior Brandon Goldman and seniors Ivy Chen and Emma Booth were selected to represent Centennial in this year’s ensemble. Dance teacher Rebecca Clark mentioned how great it was to see multiple Centennial dancers in the ensemble. “The fact that CHS had three out of twenty seven dancers in the group is amazing!” she commented. 

The process for those three dancers began in October, where members of each high school’s senior company got the opportunity to audition for Stephanie Powell, the ensemble’s choreographer. Booth remembers how enjoyable the process was because of the choreographer’s cheerful personality. “Working with Miss Powell in the audition was very fun for me because she’s very lively and engaged with her students and definitely [made] the audition process a lot less stressful,” Booth explained. “While she is demanding, it sort of [makes] you feel more alive and pushes you to dance with more passion.”

Clark explained the significance of these three dancers being selected for this opportunity. “Guest choreographer, Stephanie Powell, saw something special in those dancers and wanted them to be part of her creation,” explained Clark. “These dancers performed the repertoire with the performance qualities she was looking for.”

When the ensemble came together to begin rehearsing, Goldman noted how “it was really interesting to get to know other dancers in the county, especially since [he] had friends at other schools who go to [his] studio.” He mentioned how it was a unique experience to see all of the dancers combined in one group. 

 While the majority of the dances performed at the concert were around three minutes in length, the All-County piece ran for seven minutes, which presented unique challenges with the ensemble’s limited number of rehearsals. “Learning a seven minute piece within the span of three days was challenging because we had to retain the choreography after each day,” explained Chen. “Each dancer was responsible for practicing on their own time in order to make sure that they didn’t forget any choreography from the previous [section].” Booth shared similar opinions on the limited time the group had together. “I definitely didn’t think that we were going to finish the dance in the minimal rehearsals that we had,” she noted.

The piece also had to combine the diverse abilities of the dancers and be accessible to people of various backgrounds. Chen mentions how the choreography worked to combine everyone’s unique talents and showcase different people’s backgrounds. “[Ms. Powell] added many segments of eight counts that were improvisation, which allowed each dancer to come up with their own choreograph,” explained Chen. “That way, the piece really showcased their strengths.” She also feels that the piece’s contemporary and modern style helped to encourage dancers’ self expression. 

The All-County Dance Ensemble was first created in 2020, with the goal of making connections between the different high schools and the county as a whole. Clark believes “creating an ensemble made up of dancers from all 12 of the HCPSS schools created the opportunity to showcase [the dancers’] strength and talent across the county.” She liked how every dancer in the audience had someone to root for onstage at the event’s dress rehearsal, which led to everyone being invested in the dance and its success. 

The group’s supportive nature was visible while the event faced technical difficulties, delaying their performance. “Despite the chaos backstage, all county dancers remained calm waiting for the curtain to re-open,” explained Chen. “The audience was really supportive which helped everyone onstage feel more relieved.”

Each year, the All-County Ensemble continues to provide a collaborative experience to the HCPSS dance program and empower its dancers. “I learned there are things that I can bring to dances that other dancers can’t, and knowing that helped me realize that every dancer has something unique that they bring to the table,” explained Booth. “Having the ability to blend all of our talents into one piece was a really special opportunity that we had.”


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