Jean Labaree

Alive on stage

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On Christmas Day 1952, Jean Labaree's father picked his 5-year-old daughter up, put her on his shoulders and her told that cancer had taken her mother's life.

Jean doesn't remember her mother and she doesn't remember emotional details of that day in December, but she does remember feeling something bad had happened.

Jean grew up as the lone female in a six-person household in a suburb of Chicago. Her childhood was spent trying to keep up with her brothers, who told her to go out in left field and catch balls, she said.

"It really was the turning point in my life," Jean said. "My dad put me in dance, I think because he thought, 'She'll grow up to be a football player.' I think he wanted to make me more feminine."

Jean participated in many other sports, including diving and dance.

Because of her sports discipline, Jean started diving competitively from age 8 until she attended the University of Northern Colorado to pursue a degree in physical education.

While enrolled in a water safety instructing course in 1967, Jean jumped into a pool and pretended to drown. Who else would save her but Hud Labaree? They met in class, studied from time to time and dated regularly until vows were formalized in 1970.

"Coming to Colorado for college was another turning point," Jean said. "If I wouldn't have come to Colorado, I wouldn't have met my husband. I took a big chance in my life."

Hud, a native of Steamboat, took his bride back to his hometown. After teaching at the junior high for 10 years and coaching the first girls basketball and track teams, Jean quit to have children.

Jean's childhood consisted of sports, but when it came time for her to have children, she quit dancing for 12 years. After all were born, the light in the dancer's eyes began sparkling again. Either she found Steamboat Dance Theater or it found her about 18 years ago.

"Dance is an outlet for my creative side," Jean said. "I get to produce things that I conjure up in my mind."

Jean said when a dance company asked her to dance in college, she refused on the basis that all the dancing was modern in the late 1960s.

"I'm not a modern dancer. That's not my cup of tea," Jean said.

Jean, 53, recently choreographed two and danced in three pieces of the Steamboat Dance Theater's annual concert. Visions are something that come frequently for choreographer Jean Labaree.

"I visualize the big picture, then (specifically) how I want it to look," said Jean, one of the local theater's oldest and most recognized dancers and choreographers.

She said when she visualizes whole dance pieces, she then breaks those down into smaller pieces for efficiency and feels the energy from there.

"Some pieces will come to me very quickly, others I have to spend more time with," Jean said. "It's always a surprise."

Rhythm tap, as opposed to Broadway tap that is flashy with kick lines, is a form of dance that Jean has admired. Tapping with her for about 17 years, Gigi Walker said Jean makes dance enjoyable for dancers and the audience.

"She sees a picture and follows it through with humor," Walker said. "She's so creative and just so fun."

Walker, who has danced with the theater for about 27 years, said she admires Jean's choreography because it allows others to take a piece of ownership in them.

"She's so great as a choreographer. She's open to anyone's ideas and we all have a hand in choreographing," Walker said.

While never missing a step, Jean also has been focused on her job as a personal trainer, and swimming instructor during the summer. When she first moved to Steamboat in 1970, Jean taught different exercise classes and was a counselor at the Wellness Center.

A close friend and co-worker for about 18 years, Jeanne Gillaspie said Jean was one of the first exercise teachers at Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association when the club first added an exercise regimen.

While also a co-worker, Gillaspie also partakes in the Dance Theater as one of Jean's tap dancing students. Dancing is an area of Jean's life that Gillaspie said she idolizes:

"When she's dancing, that's when she really comes alive. She just shines, especially for somebody who is otherwise kind of shy."

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