Singular Sensations

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— When Jean Labaree began dancing in the Steamboat Dance Theatre nearly 20 years ago, men dancers were almost nonexistent.

There are a few more men today, but with or without them, the dance troupe has been a constant for three decades. The theater will celebrate its 30th anniversary with a show in March.

"It's always a little different and choreographed a little different," Labaree said of the group's annual show. "We may have some of the same choreographers but each year takes on a life of its own."

Labaree will appear in a duet tap piece with Beth Bagley-Lewis. She also has choreographed a larger tap piece.

Though the dance pieces and steps change through the years, Bagley-Lewis said the tight community of core people remains strong. Each performance begins with a love circle so the dancers can support and praise each other.

"It's a real communal thing. You know how much work people put into it," Bagley-Lewis said.

After auditions comes five months of rehearsals. The hard work creates a bond among all the dancers as they push to perfect their steps, Bagley-Lewis said.

"What I remember about past concerts are the people. We don't remember specific dances but we remember the people," Labaree said.

Labaree said it has been her experience that the dancers who stay with the group simply love dancing.

"Well, we're not in it for the money," she said. "It's got to be for the love of dance and putting on a damn good show. We've got this common thread. We're all hams and we love being on stage."

Bagley-Lewis will dance the Argentine tango with a 17-year-old partner this year. "I was his teacher initially but you can't tell he's only been dancing it a little while. I've been dancing it for years," Bagley-Lewis said.

Groups of about three to four new people join the Steamboat Dance Theatre every year and now the company sees between 50 and 60 dancers with varying skill levels.

"Jean usually tries to include people who've never performed to get both ends of the spectrum," Bagley-Lewis said of Labaree.

A new dancer to the auditorium stage this year is ballet instructor Heidi Meshurel-Jolly, owner of Northwest Ballet.

"She walks out on stage and she's got you hooked. Her stage presence is amazing and she's a professional," Bagley-Lewis said.

Labaree said she thinks the group has evolved and each year's production brings an improved array of dancers.

Just as time changes most everything in life, Bagley-Lewis said it also has changed the type of dances and costumes. Twenty years ago, "Flashdance" was the style. Now hip-hop, cultural and ethnic dances share the stage with jazz and ballet.

Bagley-Lewis' husband, Sid, was one of the main male dancers in the company during the beginning stages. The women named him their "human forklift."

"There was Sid and Sid and then there was Sid," Labaree joked. "There weren't many (men) but he was in most of them."

As the group evolves and grows, Bagley-Lewis said she hopes more men will find their way onto the stage as well.

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