Local performers dance alongside stars

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Keris Wigand, 8, left, made a face as she, Mariah Thewes, 16, and Chloe Herzog, 12, all of Jasper, listened to instructor Carolyn Randolph critique the first rehearsal of a jazz dance to the song “Singin’ in the Rain” at  Dance Central Academy of Performing Arts in Jasper on Friday. The rehearsal was the last before a group of Dance Central performances traveled to Sandusky, Ohio, on Saturday. There, they participated in a competition that included dancers featured in the reality television show “Dance Moms.” For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — Fifteen young local performers had a chance to dance with the stars Saturday.

The girls from Dance Central Academy of Performing Arts in Jasper traveled to Sandusky, Ohio, for the Believe contest and competed against the dancers from Lifetime’s hit TV series “Dance Moms.”

The show follows a group of young, professionally trained performers from Pittsburgh, Pa., as they practice for various competitions under the tutelage of their teacher, Abby Lee Miller. It also showcases the relationships among the girls’ mothers, who often disagree with Miller about her tough teaching style.

This year marks the first for the Dance Central girls as a traveling competition team. They make their way throughout the Midwest, performing group routines and solos for a panel of judges. The competition is often fierce, said teacher Carolyn Randolph, but it has never been as tough as the Sandusky contest versus the Abby Lee Dance Company students.

“There were some amazing dancers that were there. Not all of the dancers won from Abby Lee. That will be something interesting during the episode,” Randolph said, referring to Miller’s frequent televised outbursts when her students fail to sweep the contest.

The Jasper-based dancers, all of whom have seen at least a few episodes of the show, participated in the reality television filming and hope to catch glimpses of themselves when the episode airs sometime next season. Though Miller could not attend the contest, all other contest attendees gathered for a shot of the Pittsburgh company’s arrival.

“The production company actually did go get the girls before the (Abby Lee Dance Company) bus arrived and had them line up for an entrance. One of the production crew said, ”˜I want you to practice yelling for Abby,’” Randolph, who met Miller while living in Pittsburgh, explained. “They did film them walking in and our girls, as prompted, were screaming. They were excited about them coming. I don’t think there had to be much encouragement.”

Camera crews also filmed all the performances at the contest to air as short filler clips during the episode, so Randolph said there is a chance viewers will be able to see a snippet of the Dance Central performers on TV. The air date for the episode has not been announced.

Cami Gerber, 15, of Jasper caught dance mom Holly Frazier coming out of the bathroom and snapped a photo with her. One Jasper soloist, Halee Harpenau, 11, even competed against star Abby Lee dancer Maddie Ziegler in the advanced category and had the opportunity to chat with her backstage.

“I just kind of said, ”˜I like your costume,’” Halee said. “It was really fun.”

The girls also enjoyed getting a firsthand look at how a reality show is filmed. Randolph said everyone was interested to see that the TV group waited nearly an hour between receiving their awards and excitedly running back to their dressing room to show their mothers the trophies. The production team staged the dressing room entrance in order to capture everything on film. The Abby Lee dancers also performed each of their acts twice, once for the judges and again for the cameras.

“It was kind of cool because you could see them just walking around. They’re just like any other average dancer there ... but they have the film crew behind them,” said Jasper dancer Merris Egloff, 13. “It’s not something you see every day.”

Besides seeing their favorite onscreen dancers in person, the Dance Central girls get a lot out of performing at competitions.

Dance Central’s 14-member large group competition entry, “Singing in the Rain,” placed fourth in the intermediate category and the four-member small group entry, “Cooties,” placed third. Halee received a high gold for her performance, though Abby Lee dancer Maddie took home the top prize in that age group.

“I think it’s really been a lot of growth personally for the girls. They’ve made some great friendships from being together,” Randolph said. “I think it helps them as a team to have one thing that they do together. They all have different strengths.”

Contact Claire Moorman at cmoorman@dcherald.com.

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