In the students' hands

When they were freshmen, Stephanie Sanders called her friend Meryl Meranski on the phone with a proposal.

"Let's be directors of the Dance Showcase when we're seniors," Sanders said.

Meranski agreed, and four years later, the two girls are fulfilling their dreams. Along with two other Steamboat Springs High School seniors -- Katie Liefer and Jessica Vernon -- Meranski and Sanders produced and directed the Eighth Annual Dance Showcase, which will be staged this weekend.

It's the biggest responsibility any of the girls have ever taken on, and this year's showcase is the largest the high school has ever seen. Seventy dancers, some who have never been on stage before, will perform 15 dances in this year's student-run performance. Last year, 40 girls participated in the showcase.

"I guess it just caught on as something cool to do," Liefer said. "There are a lot of girls in this school that love to dance."

In October, 70 girls showed up to audition. Everyone was promised a part in at least one dance. Since then, they have rehearsed five days a week, sometimes staying at the school until 10 p.m.

The Dance Showcase started eight years ago as one student's Leadership Project and became a school tradition.

Administrators must approve the final product, but otherwise the showcase is completely in students' hands -- choreography, technical design, advertising and fund-raising. A $7,000 budget raised from bake sales and last year's ticket sales also helps to keep the students autonomous.

For the first time in the event's history, the girls took on an adult adviser, science teacher Lynda Stahl.

"She didn't tell us what to do. She just gave us an outside opinion," Meranski said. "She really helped. She was our mentor; our savior, really.

"She just told us to have fun and not stress. She kept reminding us that what we do sets the mood for all the other dancers. And we could be really hard on ourselves, so she gave us compliments instead of orders."

The adult voice helped tame a "sexy" element of the Dance Showcase that had community members whispering in the past.

Audience members often were surprised to see the way high school girls expressed themselves.

"Lynda told us that there is a difference between being sexy and being slutty," Vernon said. "There is a line. We stressed that point, but I believe this is an art form. If you listen to the music in Katie's (Liefer) piece, you can't help but move your hips."

Liefer choreographed a dance based on hip-hop moves.

"It's freestyle. You do whatever flows," Liefer said. "I think that's why it's so popular."

She set her dance to "Baby Boy" by Beyonce and Sean Paul. Liefer describes her dancing style as "flowy, sexy and smooth. That's what comes natural to me."

Vernon's piece is the opposite of Liefer's. She choreographed a stomp piece with Sanders, Kelly Jordan and Lindsay Marias.

Where Liefer's piece is rolling hips, the stomp piece is all sharp edges and heavy rhythms. The piece, called "The Evolution of Stomp: Desert to the Street," starts off with African beats and shows how the dance style moved from Africa to its current incarnation. The girls dance with brooms and trash cans, creating their own rhythms.

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