GREENFIELD — The familiar opening riff of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walkin’” filled the studio as the girls assumed their poses for the start of the dance. Aleksa Lawry counted through the 8-beat measures and watched with a critical eye, her head nodding in time to the music.
As a senior dancer at Wilkerson Dance Studio, Aleksa — and friend and fellow senior Cassondra Jones — have been working on the studio’s Mid-Winter Leap, a senior choreography showcase — a new addition to the Wilkerson performance schedule.
Mid-Winter Leap takes the stage at 3 p.m. Sunday at the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main. Tickets are $4 in advance at the dance studio (1114 W. North St.) or $5 at the door.
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In addition to Lawry’s and Jones’ choreography pieces, Mid-Winter Leap also features a variety of specialty dance performances. Under the direction of coaches Meghan McGillicuddy and Stacey Havlin, the fourth- through seventh-grade members of the competition dance squad will present solos and duets in preparation to compete later in spring. Wilkerson Dance alumni Jennifer Johnston and Katie Lawrence return to perform as guest artists for the event. Lawrence is part of the Anderson University dance department; she and dancers from the Anderson dance team will perform. Johnston, now attending Butler University, brings her Butler dance teammates to perform at Mid-Winter Leap. In addition to performing, she has choreographed a performance piece for the studio’s assistant instructors for Mid-Winter Leap.
As part of show, Aleksa and Cassondra have been working on their pieces since the beginning of the year. Both were allowed to select any form of dance — tap, ballet, jazz, modern, hip-hop, contemporary. Aleksa chose jazz; Cassondra chose contemporary. They were allowed to select their own music, costumes and dancers.
Aleksa’s jazz piece to “Boots” needed attitude, so she handpicked her dancers based on that qualification. For her instrumental version of songs from the musical, “Les Miserables,” Cassondra had different criteria for selecting her dancers.
“I chose friends that I knew I would enjoy having practice with,” Cassondra admits. “They were patient with me, too.”
The girls each wanted to be in their own pieces but settled for being in each other’s.
Their costumes match their choice in music. Aleksa’s upbeat number has her girls in leotards and shorts, knee-high boots and fishnet tights. For Cassondra’s lyrical medley, her dancers will be clad in black leotards and long white flowy skirts with their hair down. Cassondra describes the costumes as “stoic but beautiful.”
Debbie Wilkerson, director of Wilkerson Dance, and dance teacher and senior choreography project supervisor Sheila Summers felt it was important for the girls to have the experience of looking at their own piece and not be in it.
“As teachers, we always tell them ‘I wish you could see what this looks like’,” Wilkerson said, “and know how wonderful we feel when we’ve created something.”
Both girls agreed that choreographing was more difficult than they’d expected.
“I had ideas for sections of music — big powerful moments,” Aleksa said, “but then the rest was ‘How do I fill in the gaps?’”
Cassondra agreed: “I’d want a big giant leap and lift here, but then how to I get there?”
The girls faced the challenge of explaining their vision to their dancers. Cassondra found inspiration for a moment in her piece from an unusual source: a video game. She choreographed one of her dancers to kick out her legs and hold her arms just like Mario in “Mario Smash Brothers.” She calls it — naturally — “the Mario Jump.”
Between the two of them, the girls have been dancing for more than two-thirds of their lives and spend upwards of ten hours a week at the dance studio.
Cassondra, an Eastern Hancock High School senior who can now add choreographer to a resume that includes being 2017’s Hancock County 4-H Fair Queen, plans to major in business and minor in dance.
“The end goal,” she said, “is to dance wherever as long as I’m young and settle down to start a dance studio.”
Aleksa, a student at the online Hoosier Academy, plans to attend Anderson University. She shares that aspiration.
“I want to dance for as long as my body will let me. When I’m older, I want to teach,” Aleksa said, pointing at Cassondra and smiling, “maybe at her studio.”
Mid-Winter Leap by Wilkerson Dance Studio
3 p.m. Sunday
H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St.
Tickets are $4 in advance (available at the studio); $5 at the door