Local girls dance to benefit Hurricane Sandy victims

Art is healing, and with many people in the state — including Milford — still repairing their lives after Hurricane Sandy, 13 teen dancers from Lee Lund Dance Studio had the opportunity to share their talents to benefit others.

They were invited to perform with Vissi Dance Theater’s Annual Suite Sunday dance concert. The show was held in New York City’s renowned St. Mark’s Church in Greenwich Village. All proceeds from the dance concert will be given to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Ambere Rogers, co-owner with her aunt, Denise Kirkpatrick, of Lee Lund Dance Studio, is a professional dancer with Vissi Dance Theater.

Along with the Milford dance studio’s teen company, Courtney Ffrench, founder of Vissi Dance, also invited young dancers from Texas to perform with the company.

Participating in the performance was a way the girls could “give back.”

Rogers, who has performed at St. Mark’s Church in the past, described the venue as “a beautiful space.”

Given the events that had recently taken place in Newtown, Rogers said, it was also “healing” for the Connecticut troupe to express their feelings through dance in a church setting.

Along with the rest of the nation, Ffrench was “incredibly devastated,” by the tragedy, Rogers explained. “He actually stopped the show because he wanted to recognize the girls from Connecticut,” she said.

When the dancers took their bows, Ffrench addressed the Vissi dancers by telling them that in these “trying times” he wanted to let them know how much he loved and appreciated their hard work.

“He’s never said anything like this to us,” Rogers said. “If he said ‘Good job’ after a performance, that was something.”

In the New York performance, the Lee Lund Dancers performed a jazz routine to Beyoncé’s End of Time.

Nicole Parsons, 17, a dancer for 15 years at Lee Lund Studio, said it was great to help people who lost so much.

Teen company member Taylor Ouellete agreed. “It’s always inspiring to see people who have made their passion into their everyday job,” Taylor said. “We were feeding off of the other dancers’ energy and really weren’t that nervous. It was such a welcoming and fun environment that these dancers created that we couldn’t do anything but enjoy ourselves as we performed.”

Shaina Birch, another company member, said the overall performance was “calmer and more intimate” than expected. “It was an amazing experience getting to dance with professionals in New York City. … All the dancers were so welcoming, and it gave all of us the feel of what dancing professionally is really like.”

A native of Milford, Rogers appreciated the venue’s aesthetics. While dancing Speak to Me, a gospel song from the soundtrack for The Color Purple, Rogers was moved by the spirituality inherent in her surroundings.

“It was so cool to look up and see beautiful stained-glass windows all around,” she said.

Rogers said ballet teacher Debi Passarelli was responsible for getting the teen company members to New York City. “It takes a small army to do these shows,” Rogers said. “She was the one who organized the girls, brought them to New York City on the train and back, did the spacing rehearsal in the church, costumes and makeup, and made sure the production team had the correct music and lights for the teens’ dance. I was performing in five pieces and had to focus on my own performance. Without her it would have been impossible for these girls to have this opportunity.”

This was the second time that dancer Ashley Masliuk, 16, has performed with the Vissi Dance Theater in Manhattan. “It felt just as great as it did in March,” said Ashley. “I’m always excited when I travel and let everybody see our talent.”

Ashley has been dancing at the Milford studio for 14 years.