PORTLAND — Dancing feet are happy feet, and the youth of UpBeat Feet Dance Company have a reason to be smiling.

With children ages 9 to 18 dancing, the company is a noncompetitive dance group with a community-conscious spin.

“They go into assisted living facilities, hospitals and schools,” Angie Harrison, who oversees the company, said. “They perform and give workshops, giving back to the community.”

UpBeat Feet Dance Company is supported by the nonprofit Portland Youth Dance, providing scholarships to dancers who could not otherwise afford the classes and supporting an outreach program for area children.

Since January 2006, the UpBeat Feet Dancers that are in the upper level classes have been teaching a free program for youth who have an interest in dance, but had not pursued it due to financial reasons, Harrison said. The students in the outreach program, from ages 7 to 15, participate in Saturday classes throughout the spring and will perform with the dance company later this month.

Norma Harrison, 17, of Gorham, has been dancing since she was 6 years old. Now, she’s an instructor for the outreach program teaching street funk or hip hop to the participants.

“(It’s nice) to know that I’m doing something to help the community,” she said, recognizing if the class was not free, these children wouldn’t be participating.

For Marissa Bickford, 16, of Falmouth, teaching these children is a highlight of the program.

“They’re all really great kids. My favorite part is the fact we get to teach because it’s a little bit different than learning the dance,” she said. “It’s a cool opportunity not just for students but dancers as well.”

“It’s really incredible,” Angie Harrison said of watching the UpBeat Feet dancers teach the children in the outreach program.

“When we first started doing this, we were thinking we were offering something to these young ones,” she said. “Once through our first year, what I saw was that those little ones were actually giving to the older ones with their want and need to participate.”

Zackery Betty, 18, of Standish, has been dancing for 13 years and he works on the choreography for the dances taught during the outreach program. Overseeing the class for the older group in the program, he will find a piece of music and design moves to accommodate what the students have been learning.

“I love to see the kids come in every week and be excited to dance,” he said, adding he enjoys that the students also have the experience of performing on stage at the end of the program.

If anything, in the end, the program provides the children with some confidence. Angie Harrison said at the end of each class, students and UpBeat Feet Dancers form a circle. They step in one at a time and do a small combination dance, which most students in the outreach program opt out of during the first few classes.

“But the last class, they’re going in and doing somersaults and cartwheels,” she said. “It’s fun to watch them come out of their shell.”

 

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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