Young dancer is raising the "barre"

By Nancy Gutierrez

At 14, Meaghan Swinney, already knows what she wants to dedicate her life to -- dancing.

She started taking dance classes at 9, and two years ago committed herself to serious ballet training. Already she has been accepted to the Boston Ballet Dance Lab, a prestigious five week program for 12- to 15-year-old dancers. Meaghan was picked out of 2,000 other girls from across the country.

"I auditioned in Los Angeles where there were about 200 dancers," she said.

At the audition, judges observed the dancers doing barre work and gave them a series of steps and moves, called combinations, to do in groups. A barre is a hip height handrail that ballet dancers use to maintain balance during practice. Meaghan's audition was in January. She received notice of her acceptance in March.

"I've never been away from home so it will be scary but I'm excited," she said.

Meaghan's main experience comes from the work she does with the Pallas and Company dancers, a group out of Visalia lead by Susan Pallas. She has performed with the group at community events and for Tulare County Schools. She also performed in the "Nutcracker" with the Russian Festival Ballet. She will play the lead in the company's upcoming production of "Babes in Toyland," June 27 and "Purely Imaginary," a modern jazz ballet on June 26.

With hardly enough time to catch her breath Meaghan will leave for Boston on June 28 for a chance to learn from some of the best teachers in the country.

"A lot of professional dancers talk about having spent a couple summers in Boston. It's one of the top programs," Meaghan said. "The point is not only to train dancers. They are looking for students to accept into their year round school that feeds into the Boston Ballet Company."

In Boston, Meaghan will dance five days a week for 4-5 hours and attend master classes with guest teachers on the weekend. She said she and the other 149 students will attend musicals and ballets and visit the city.

"But the Boston program is pretty expensive," Meaghan said.

So expensive that, to raise money, Meaghan put on a one-girl show on Sunday, May 30 for donations.

"It's the first show I've done on my own," she said. " The dancing will be a piece of cake but I've never done speeches. I had an introduction and demonstration that I was a little nervous about."

Meaghan performed a Kitri variation from the ballet "Don Quixote," a character piece from "Seusical the Musical," and a modern piece to the Enya song "May it be" from the movie "Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring."

Additional music was provided by Kelli McConnehey. In between Meaghan's performances, McConnehey, a recent graduate from Arizona State University, performed songs on her flute.

Meaghan will be in Boston until July 31. Anyone interested in providing her with a donation to help with the trip can contact Rachelle Ledbetter or Steve Swinney at 561-3266.

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