Teens polish their moves

From jazz to musical theater and hip-hop to contemporary, it's all fair game at Newport Harbor High School's "ArreiS 2013."

The show, a potpourri of beginning and intermediate dancers and members of the junior varsity and varsity dance teams, runs until Saturday, spotlighting 133 students from freshman to seniors. A few football players and athletes also signed up for the troupe, which otherwise stars mostly girls.

The two-hour concert showcases 23 routines, including three solos and seven student-choreographed pieces.

Dance Team captain Kelsey Long created a solo routine labeled "All or Nothing," plus a group number called "Flock" — both fusions of jazz and contemporary.

"I love being able to express myself without words and being able to perform for people and bringing smiles to their faces," said Long, 18, of Newport Beach.

Overjoyed to share the stage with her best friends, Long, a dancing enthusiast since she was 3, said the dance team has served as a venue for several of her closest relationships, drawing together a dynamic mix.

Watching dancers like Long grow, whether in technique or ability, has been the most rewarding part of Julie Simmons' week.

As the school's dance director, Simmons oversees the annual production, for which students start rehearsing in September.

"It's an entertaining show with a lot of energy, videos that depict what life is like for our dancers off-stage, and diversity in choreography," Simmons said. "It's very fast moving — there aren't many pauses between one dance and the next."

Simmons and her daughter, Tara Olson, became associated with Harbor High in 1999, as the dance program was on the verge of going under. The 55-year-old Newport Beach resident recognized that dancers who had been training and competing their entire childhoods, like Olson, needed an art outlet even at school.

She revamped the program, infusing it with life, providing what is now like "a sport for these kids," she said.

After graduating, Olson returned to her alma mater as the dance team coach and, hand in hand with her mother, created opportunities for students to experiment with various styles and choreography — giving them an edge in today's industry.

The program's $20,000 budget comes from a combination of donations, car washes, candle sales and annual Dancing with the Teachers events.

The concert's name is a memorial to Sierra Soto, who died at age 4 in 1999. Her mother, Cindy Soto, was the school's former dance director. Soto also owned Newport Beach's Dance Center, where Olson and her classmates trained as kids.

Sierra was one of two toddlers Steven Allen Abrams killed when he drove his Cadillac into Southcoast Early Childhood Learning Center. The motorist, who had a history of mental illness and drug abuse, also injured four other children and a teacher's aide when he plowed through a 4-foot fence and into the 40-person crowd.

"ArreiS is Sierra spelled backward," Simmons said. "Her picture is in our program and her mother often comes to our show."

Participating in this program has taught students the importance of time management, as they've played a balancing act between training sessions, as well as school and extra-curricular activities, Long said.

Single-mindedly focused on enhancing her moves by resting, eating healthy and staying in shape, Long is now counting down "to having a fantastic last show, as a senior, and bringing the dances and stories that are being told, to life."

This coincides with what Simmons is trying to provide her girls.

Always on the lookout for shared excitement on the faces of students and their families, Simmons said, "I love that I'm able to provide a high-quality activity for the students on this campus. It's a competitive campus and it's often hard to find a place for yourself in high school. Dancing gives them that safe and fun place."


Twitter: @RMahbubani

If You Go

What: ArreiS 2013

Where: Newport Harbor High School's Robert Wentz Theater, 600 Irvine Ave., Newport Beach

When: 7 to 9:15 p.m. until Saturday

Cost: $15 for adults, $10 for students and children

Information: http://www.newportharbordanceteam.com or call (949) 515-6368

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