When a three- or four-year-old puts on her tights and leotard to learn to dance, it’s often a passing fancy. But for 13 graduating seniors, those early twirls and pliés at the Academy of Movement and Music turned them into serious dancers in the resident dance company, Momenta. 

But their dance steps created more than that. The discipline, curriculum and camaraderie helped create strong, curious and persistent young women ready to take on the world — all of which is perfectly mirrored in their last show together, Dances for Spring: Lessons from our Past – Building our Future.

Twelve of the seniors go to Oak Park and River Forest High School while one attends Northside College Prep. They work hard at dancing — 20 hours per week was the general agreement among the four 17- and 18-year-old Oak Parkers interviewed: Sophie Poe, Isabel Brandt, Audrey Glock and Grace Philion.

Sophie and Grace said the dance schedule, along with challenging academics, forced them to manage their time better. And it brought all the girls closer together.

“It’s an indescribable bond between us,” Audrey said. “We understand each other on such a deep level. Sophie and I, as doubles in this show, can look at each other across the room and know exactly what we’re saying without words.”

Dancing is not all they do together. Sophie, Audrey and Grace attended the Women’s March in Washington D.C., in January 2017. They aware of the world around them, due partly to their dance training, especially Martha Graham Technique.

“A lot of her work was about women’s rights, female empowerment and other things grounded in social justice,” Audrey said. “You learn what you’re dancing about and what message you’re getting across.”

Grace found the Women’s March unifying — to “be around all those people fighting for something you really believe in.” She believes dance can bring people together. All the seniors agreed that dance should be available to everyone and not thought of as elitist.

To that end, Grace initiated an event with the Park District of Oak Park to showcase Doris Humphrey works in Scoville Park. Humphrey, an Oak Park native, was an early 20th-century modern dance pioneer.

Helping others takes the focus away from themselves. Some volunteer at Hephzibah, Infant Welfare Society, Empty Bowls, Housing Forward, Feed My Starving Children or Tau Gamma, an OPRF service club.

Isabel Brandt has traveled twice to Guatemala through School the World, building playgrounds and interacting with kids in communities where education has not been valued. She will also be traveling with the Appalachian Service Project through Ascension Church in Oak Park as a team leader this summer to work on a home that requires repairs for a family in need.

In their upcoming final concert series, each senior performs a solo. This is the largest class of seniors since the studio was founded in 1971 in founder Stephanie Clemens’ living room, so the volume of solos have to be split between two show times.

It is bittersweet thinking of life beyond the academy where they grew up and without their best friends by their sides.

“This is the last time we’re going to be in our dressing room together as a company and as a group preparing for a show,” Sophie said. “It’ll never be the same.”

The dancing will continue. Sophie plans to major in dance and political science. Audrey wants to combine her love of dance with early education and double major. Isabel plans to major in dance and possibly minor in international studies or non-profit work. Grace wants to major in business/public policy and possibly minor in dance.

Dances for Spring: Lessons from our Past – Building our Future will take place on the the stage at the Academy these next two weekends, but it also sets the stage for what is to come.

See Momenta’s spring concert at the Academy of Movement and Music, Saturday, March 10 and 17, 8 p.m., and Sunday, March 11 and 18, 7 p.m. Tickets are $20; $10, seniors; $5, students. More: momentadances.org/spring-2018-evening-concerts. 605 Lake St., Oak Park. 

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