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By ANGELENA CHAPMAN
Special to the Standard
EXETERâPerforming at Disney would be a dream come true for any young dancer so when one local group found out they were selected to perform they were totally surprisedâliterally.
Unbeknownst to the group of 30, made up of three different classes at Rhythm Dance Center in Exeter, their dance teacher had submitted video of their most recent recital and they were accepted.
Their âtogetherness, technique and performance,â were what the Disney Youth Program was looking for, said Jessica Pennington, 33, of Exeter, who opened Rhythm Dance Center in 2006.
The dancers will perform at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. in August of next year.
Exeterâs Molly Millette, 16, said the group didnât know they were even up for consideration until a couple weeks ago and she called it âthe best news ever.â
One of the older girls at the studio, Millette has been dancing for 13 years.
Hayley Franz, 17, of West Greenwich, who has been dancing for four years and Mackenzie Walsh, 14, of Exeter, who has been dancing for 11 years agreed with Millette that they had never expected to have had an opportunity like this.
The girls do âeverything,â they said, including ballet, jazz, hip hop and tap.
There are about 180 students at Penningtonâs dance school and the recital footage she submitted was from three classes that dancers are asked to join who were âmore focused for their age groups.â
Pennington sent in a tap number from the Broadway Bound class of 8 to 10-year-olds, a jazz piece from the 11 to 13-year-old Fame class and a piece from the 13-years and older group known as Company. All the pieces were from a recital last June.
The application process didnât require any writing, but Pennington said they looked at, âthe type and quality of dance,â âif it was a good fit for Disneyâupbeat,â and at the girlsâ âstage personalities.â
âWhen I told them, I was so excited and I almost started crying,â Pennington said. It was always a dream of mine to do this. Iâve been myself with the studio I used to dance at, but thatâs not the same.â
Penningstonâs groups this year make the selection mean even more.
âWe have such a good strong group, [with] good personalities and everyone gets along so great,â she said, âI was confident that they would get accepted.â
The students feel the same way.
âWe worked really hard for our last recital,â Franz said, âWe are really focused and always trying to do our best.â
It helps, of course, that the students feel they can be themselves in Penningtonâs class.
âIt has a lot to do with the kind of studio we go to,â Millette added. âItâs not a competitive environment. We care about each other and Miss Jessica care about us.â
âWe work hard [and] the only competition is against yourself to get better,â Walsh said.
ââMiss Jessicaâ puts so much into the dances,â Franz said, noting that when Pennington tells the girls the song they are going to perform, they are âalways so excitedâ and always tell each other âtheir favorite move in the dance.â
âIt feels like a family,â she added.
Franz feels Penningtonâs style is another special aspect that only makes her groupâs performance better.
âItâs fun,â she said. âShe is laughing and having a good time and itâs easier to learn.â
The students say that, despite the fun, they all stay very focused and take their craft seriously.
âWe think the world of her,â Millette said, âWhen weâre happy here we want to dance harder.â
The groups from Rhythm Dance Center are already hard at work because they have to raise their own funds for hotels and travel to Florida. They say their parents are helping share the fundraising burden, though, in an effort to ensure the girls can focus on their dancing.
Pennington says she is thankful and eager to get to work.
âWe have to get the show ready,â she said.
The groupâs annual summer recital will take place a few weeks before they go so Pennington thinks they will use those numbers for the performance at Disney.
The groupâs holiday show âVisions of SugarplumsâŠâ, meanwhile, is set for next month. The performances will take place Dec. 15 at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. at Coventry High School and will feature raffles for the girlsâ fundraising efforts for the trip.