Star-Spangled Dancers

Steamboat Ballet presents an American Jubilee

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— Every student or performer in Steamboat Ballet knows not to mess with Steph.

She's tough, she's smart and she'll teach you a lot if you keep your mouth shut.

Though Stephanie Hunter, owner of Steamboat Ballet, has been running the company for 1-and-a-half years, she knows that success in business means you've also got to have a little heart.

"You find these kids and they're so afraid to be alive. And I was like that, so I really tend to adapt to those kids," Hunter said. "It's a therapy session for the first two to three months. It's a lot of work, but I know how to deal with these kids."

With her 14-month-old crying for the center of attention along with 110 students in this year's first performance, it's a wonder how Hunter choreographs the ballet, collects the costumes and organizes that many people.

She even wonders herself.

"It's 30 minutes of, 'Oh, my god. How did I do this?'" Hunter said of the first act. "I'm very proud. I don't know how I did it."

When Steamboat Ballet opened its doors, Hunter said she had 120 students right off hand. And doing everything may seem exhausting even to her, but this 28-year-old dancer, choreographer, business owner, mother and wife said she loves it all.

"I guess I'm a control freak. I never thought I'd be having my own dance studio," Hunter said. "It's growing by leaps and bounds."

Sabrina Pawlak, a Steamboat Ballet student, said she's learned more in the last year than in the 15 previous years she's been studying dance.

"It's been such a learning experience. The level of instruction is amazing," Pawlak said.

For a company that has taken off in flight, Hunter said she hopes Steamboat Ballet puts on a second production of the year a full ballet, in November.

But for now, the audience can just sit back and relax while ballet, point and jazz take over the stage Friday and Saturday nights.

Britni Bruce, a 17-year-old dancer, will debut her first choreographed piece, "Anger," in this performance.

"Anger," which Bruce said is the antithesis to American Jubilee, displays erratic music and motions in a contemporary style.

"It's exactly what I wanted it to be, it's not modest," the former Perry-Mansfield student said. "It's opened a lot of doors for me."

Bruce said the desire to choreograph a piece in a production has been lingering in her mind, but she always was too frightened.

However, because of Bruce's tardiness into the studio this year, she's been given less time to dance and more time to put her creative juices into working mode.

"It was just time," Bruce said.

The other jazz pieces that accompany "Anger" reveal Hunter's young and modern style of dance and her connection with the students.

"You never want to do cutesy. This is something that complimented that age group," Hunter said of the teenagers dancing to a lyrical Metallica song.

Brightly colored, crushed velvet wigs and a sequined hat will be on the heads of dancers for a "Colors" piece that Hunter just digs.

"I can't wait to see how it's going to look. It's really artistic for me," Hunter said.

The wild and crazy techno music that accompanies "Colors" allows more eccentricity to emerge from these young artists and performers.

The freedom and expression of each piece creates more attraction for people, but Hunter said she can't put everyone in a jazz piece.

"Those who do jazz and ballet are much stronger. Both (jazz and ballet) work together very well," Hunter said.

Choreographing a lot of ballet dancers in her jazz pieces has reminded Hunter of her childhood dancing.

Hunter pointed out that as a student, she learned new pieces and performed them within three weeks.

Although Steamboat Ballet students typically learn them in about 1-and-a-half months, Hunter said she'll get them to that aspired goal one day.

"They're at the point where they're ready," Hunter said.

Most of Hunter's students cannot yet drive a car or buy an alcoholic drink, but Pawlak, Steamboat Ballet's oldest student, said she learns more from the teenagers.

"It's challenging and fun to be in a piece with 16- and 17-year-olds," Pawlak said. "Most are so advanced in their dance, it's comparable. Most of the time I'm challenged by their dancing skills."

Pawlak said she's more advanced in jazz and modern dance than ballet, which she's dabbled in for about three years.

Hunter also recalled the treatment of teachers who were irrational, cruel and favored the "best" students.

"I can't stand teachers that have favorites," Hunter said. "I'm trying to give every dancer ... who works hard ... to get a solo."

Act II, comprising an excerpt from "Cinderella," will allow a teenage dancer a solo in the performance. Cinderella and the fairy god mother are the only dancers over the age of 20.

Whether they're waving American flags and marching or acting as southern belles, Hunter has incorporated ballet dancers from all levels of experience into the first act.

"American Jubilee," the title for the whole production, takes a patriotic look into American music and dance with 65 dancers on stage at one time.

"It's so patriotic ..." Hunter said. "The curtain never closes."

Although she doesn't know how she choreographed this act either, Hunter had to give props to her dad for conceiving the idea.

With a CD collection of patriotic bands, such as John Williams, Hunter said she couldn't pass up her dad's ingenious idea of choreographing something patriotic.

And she's been doing so with 110 students, a 14-month-old toddler and a passion that doesn't let her down.

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