Originally Published: December 10, 2009 9:59 p.m.
PRESCOTT - With spins and jumps and chugalug-lugs, dancers open The Dance Studio's "Rockin' in the Pines" Christmas show with a jazzy interpretation of The Polar Bear Express.
"This is a variety show," said Donna Casey, The Dance Studio's owner and performance director. "We're doing tap, jazz, hip-hop, contemporary songs and ballet. A little bit of everything, including all the familiar Christmas songs."
With about 150 dancers and 40 dance numbers, Casey and ballet master Andrew Needhammer have their hands full.
"The dancers are very enthusiastic and very energetic," said Needhammer, who is the dance coordinator at Northern Arizona University Community Music and Dance Academy.
The youngest dancer in the Christmas production is 3 years old and the oldest is 76, Casey said. Needhammer met Casey 14 years ago when he was a student and performed in Casey's Christmas show.
Katie Boggs danced her first Casey Christmas production when she was 3 years old. Now, at 17, she's still dancing for Casey.
"Christmas is my favorite recital," Boggs said Wednesday before a dress rehearsal. She especially enjoys lyrical numbers.
"It's hard to define, but lyrical is kind of a combination of jazz and ballet. It has a lot of passion," Boggs said. "You use the passion and emotion and put that into the dance. You feel the dance."
Dancers start The Polar Bear Express number with a slow chug in the same manner that a train starts. As the drums and jazzy tempo pick up speed, girls spin and jump and work themselves into an orchestrated frenzy.
Backstage between numbers, dancers perform a different kind of frenzy.
"It's chaotic backstage," Boggs said. "Everyone's running around ripping off costumes and throwing on your next one. The adrenaline is just pumping through your veins."
Dance instructor Halee Ballash agrees.
"I don't know how many times I was about to go on stage and completely forgot the choreography," she said. "But once you're on stage and the music starts, it just comes to you."
Between 15 and 20 volunteers help backstage during performances, and about half-a-dozen Prescott High School students comprise the technical crew.
Out of the 150 all-female dancers, 30 belong to Casey's RhythMotion Performing Company. They had only about three weeks to prepare for the Christmas show.
"They are like a well oiled machine," Casey said.
The other dancers are students at The Dance Studio.
"They started rehearsing in October," said Keren Clark, a volunteer and member of the RhythMotion Association. "The girls have been rehearsing about five times a week."
"It's all about the kids, not me," Casey said. "They give up their Friday nights and Saturdays to give something back to the community."
"Rockin' in the Pines" performs 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., including an intermission Dec. 18 and Dec. 19 in the Ruth Street Theater, 1050 N. Ruth St., adjacent to Prescott High School. Tickets cost $10 at The Dance Studio, 1601 Iron Springs Road, in Prescott, and are available at the door.
"This is like a home away from home," Boggs said. "You can just come here and be happy."