There were precious few bright spots during this fall’s football season, though the East Hampton High School Dance Company’s version of the can-can at the homecoming game certainly was one of them.
Overseen by three coaches, Lea Bryant, Anita Finder, and Tracee Van Brunt, the high school company numbers about 30 and the middle school company, where Van Brunt and Andrea Hernandez are the instructors, more than 40.
The dance gamut was pretty much covered by the three coaches, Van Brunt said during a conversation this week. “I’ve done a little bit of everything, Lea has a strong ballroom background, and Anita was a ballet dancer.”
Van Brunt said she had danced competitively when growing up in Sayville, and presided over a dance company when she was a student at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. She wished, she said, that Sayville High had offered such a program when she was there. “Not that many high schools have dance clubs,” she said. “At East Hampton the kids don’t have to pay for studio dance lessons, which is a good thing.”
The club was founded in 2002 by Haleigh Beyer, who asked for and received the then athletic director Chris Tracey’s okay. Forty-seven turned out that first year, testimony to the fact that the need was there.
Mary Marrangoni, who was the club’s first coach, said at the time that “a lot of girls who otherwise wouldn’t be involved in a team had been looking for this.”
But aside from the winter, during which the final touches are put to an ambitious end-of-March hour-and-a-half long recital, the company’s coaches are amenable to their charges playing on the school’s various teams as well.
A recent attendee at one of the club’s practices, during which arduous Pilates exercises were mixed in with variegated dance forms, can attest that these girls are indeed athletes, an assessment with which Van Brunt, who teaches dance at the Dancehampton Studio on Lumber Lane here, and who is soon to oversee a dance company in New York City, heartily agreed.
Among those who were at the aforementioned practice, Kelly Boles said she played field hockey, Dana Chittavong said she played soccer, volleyball, and ran track, Addie Herrlin said she rode horses, Jessica Alvarracin said she played soccer, and Aoife Forde said she was a runner. Kate Havlicek, Leidy Narvaez, and Laini Wright described themselves as full-time dancers.
“This year, for the first time ever, we’re going to take the ones who’ve been with us the longest to a regional competition in May,” Van Brunt continued, adding that although the club is not now formally part of the school’s athletic program, “the athletic director [Joe Vas] is working to get us under its wing.”
Before a recent merengue and barn dance performance during the school’s health fair, Wright, a senior in her third year with the club, who plans to do volunteer work in India next year, said she liked the coaches’ latitude when it came to the various dance genres — last April’s recital included ballet, jazz, swing, lyrical, pop, modern, African, Latin American, and hip-hop pieces — and their “passion.”
Under Bryant, Finder, and Van Brunt’s tutelage, “I’m improving — absolutely,” Wright said, adding that “the older girls help the younger ones.”
Havlicek, who has studied for a decade and who, with Rebecca King, choreographed two pieces performed in last spring’s recital, said that in addition to the thrice-a-week workouts at the high school, she took private classes two afternoons a week at Dancehampton and was eyeing performing arts schools. “We have girls who’ve never danced before and some who look as if they’ve danced their whole lives . . . everyone’s improved so much.”
“We’ve been taking trips too,” said Van Brunt. “We went to see the Alvin Ailey troupe in the city last year and we went to the Broadway Dance Center studio where the kids took some classes with professionals. This winter, we’re going to bring the middle school group to the Broadway Dance Center.”
The coming recital — “we’re having it at the end of March because we don’t want it to cut into spring sports” — would, she said, “give the spectators a taste of everything, but, on the other hand, we don’t want them running out the door!”
The bet here is that they’ll stay and that they’ll be glad they did.