A jazz dance company formed by the Lawrence Arts Center is headed by a former member of Ballet Midwest.
Dancing has been Molly Gordon's passion since she began studying and performing with Ballet Midwest, a professional dance company based in Topeka. She was 4 at the time.
Now, after a dancing career that has taken her to nightclubs, theme parks and cruise ships, she has returned to Kansas to teach for a while. And she hopes her love of dancing and choreography will rub off on her students, members of the Lawrence Arts Center's recently formed Eighth Street Jazz Dance Company.
"I thought it would be fun, and I'd get a chance to work on choreography and staging," she said.
The company focuses on jazz dance rather than ballet or modern dance. Jazz, she said, is more spontaneous and allows a dancer to mold the movement to her own personality. However, she believes all dancers should have a strong background in ballet.
"With ballet, it's stricter, more control, more technical discipline and technique," she said.
The Eighth Street Jazz Dance Company was formed in September and currently has four members -- Jessica Roper, 14; Sarah Ballard-Hanson, 13; Erin Moriarty, 17; and Emily Shaftel, 15. The company meets from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays, after the teen-agers' regular dance class.
"We've had one performance in the community so far," Gordon said. "We've been working on a performance in February."
Five weeks after the group formed, they presented a ragtime piece at the arts center and the Eldridge Hotel as part of the Harvest of Arts celebration. The work was set to music composed by Bill Warren.
The dancers are working now on "Let's Get Loud," a piece that has an upbeat Latin rhythm.
"The choreography is hard, but I can already see in a couple of the girls that it's taken them to the next level of growth," she said.
" " In the back of my mind, I'm always thinking, slowly building. I'm extremely moody with my choreography. It has to be expressive and fit right with the music."
Gordon, who grew up in Topeka but now lives in Lawrence, said being a professional dancer takes commitment and discipline. She danced with Ballet Midwest until age 18, then moved to Los Angeles where she performed five years for Disneyland and Six Flags Over America. She also danced with a South Bay-area company, at Harrah's in Lake Tahoe and on Royal Caribbean cruise ships.
"I decided to come home for a while. I've been here 1 1/2 years, but I'm itching to travel again," she said. "The window of opportunity is limited for dancers because your body gives out. I'd like to go to New York to take classes and to absorb the culture there."
Gordon said she shares her professional dancing experiences with her students so they will have a realistic view of what it takes to become a dancer.
"With the jazz company, I hope I'm building a foundation and hope the girls will be interested in doing choreography," she said. "We focus on four things: the fun of performing and performing with the face, heart and soul and presentation (of a professional); working as a team; morals such as respect for each other, responsibility, reporting on time; and the right way to get healthy."
Gordon said many professional dancers have developed eating disorders in their attempts to stay slender and to cover up their insecurities. She teaches her students that it's more important to stick to who you are and to believe in yourself rather that trying to fit an image.
"I try to tell them how to mentally prepare themselves to be strong," she said.
Gordon said she likes to challenge her students, and will set the bar a bit higher that their current skill levels so they will have something to strive toward.
"Overall, I want the experience to be good for them," she said, "and for them to come out with growth."
-- Jan Biles' phone message number is 832-7146. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.