By ANGELENA CHAPMAN
Special to the Standard
EXETER–Performing 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 surprised—literally.
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 “togetherness, technique and performance,” 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.
Exeter’s Molly Millette, 16, said the group didn’t know they were even up for consideration until a couple weeks ago and she called it “the best news ever.”
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 “everything,” they said, including ballet, jazz, hip hop and tap.
There are about 180 students at Pennington’s dance school and the recital footage she submitted was from three classes that dancers are asked to join who were “more focused for their age groups.”
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 didn’t require any writing, but Pennington said they looked at, “the type and quality of dance,” “if it was a good fit for Disney—upbeat,” and at the girls’ “stage personalities.”
“When I told them, I was so excited and I almost started crying,” Pennington said. It was always a dream of mine to do this. I’ve been myself with the studio I used to dance at, but that’s not the same.”
Penningston’s groups this year make the selection mean even more.
“We have such a good strong group, [with] good personalities and everyone gets along so great,” she said, “I was confident that they would get accepted.”
The students feel the same way.
“We worked really hard for our last recital,” Franz said, “We are really focused and always trying to do our best.”
It helps, of course, that the students feel they can be themselves in Pennington’s class.
“It has a lot to do with the kind of studio we go to,” Millette added. “It’s not a competitive environment. We care about each other and Miss Jessica care about us.”
“We work hard [and] the only competition is against yourself to get better,” Walsh said.
“‘Miss Jessica’ puts so much into the dances,” Franz said, noting that when Pennington tells the girls the song they are going to perform, they are “always so excited” and always tell each other “their favorite move in the dance.”
“It feels like a family,” she added.
Franz feels Pennington’s style is another special aspect that only makes her group’s performance better.
“It’s fun,” she said. “She is laughing and having a good time and it’s easier to learn.”
The students say that, despite the fun, they all stay very focused and take their craft seriously.
“We think the world of her,” Millette said, “When we’re happy here we want to dance harder.”
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.
“We have to get the show ready,” she said.
The group’s 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 group’s holiday show “Visions of Sugarplums…”, 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 girls’ fundraising efforts for the trip.