They've got the moves!

May 06, 2000



Saturday, May 13 - Homewood Strawberry Festival in Williamsport. The group is expected to perform between 11 a.m. and noon.

Saturday, May 20 - The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., Hagerstown, 2 and 7 p.m. Admission is free. Donations will be accepted.

By MARLO BARNHART / Staff Writer

The BTJ Dancers are hot ... and they're cool.

So cool, in fact, that they will heat up the stage at The Maryland Theatre Saturday, May 20.

The group has certainly come a long way from its humble roots just over a year ago. What began as a short-range effort to get kids off the streets has blossomed into a regular dance group, said instructor Ranelle Flurie, director of Ballet and All That Jazz.

Early in 1999, the effort began with a group of about 30 girls and some adults participating in a weekly HotSpot jazz clinic on Sumans Avenue ... just for something to do.


"The group was started to give the girls something better to do than just hang around," said Carolyn Brooks, HotSpot coordinator. "And it was for good exercise, too."

Located right in the middle of the HotSpot area, the clinic tried to make a difference in a neighborhood that often is known only for drug sales and violence.

HotSpot areas were designated around the state a number of years ago. Programs were begun to help restore pride and community spirit in the affected neighborhoods.

Since its early days, BTJ Dancers - which stands for Ballet (and all) That Jazz - has lost and gained new participants and has stayed focused and strong. Ages range from as young as 4 to one woman who is 50.

Now the group is reaching out into the community and showing others what can be accomplished with simple but hard-fought goals.

"I was with the group at the beginning but then I had to stop because I was also involved in orchestra," said Whytne Brooks.

Now 14, Whytne is back in step. "Having fun is the best part, but also being with people I have things in common with is great."

Accustomed to performing in public, Whytne said she is really looking forward to the group's busy schedule.

Jalisa Shrader also has been with the group since it began and plans to become a dancer ... when she gets a little older.

"It's the music I like," said the 8-year-old. "And I'm really looking forward to The Maryland Theatre date because May 20 is my birthday."

Jalisa's sister, Gabrielle, also 8, said she enjoys doing all the twists and turns that make dancing fun.

Even little Jaquita Twyman gets a kick out of it.

"We twirl around and then we come back up," said the 6-year-old.

On May 13, the group performs at the Strawberry Festival at Homewood in Williamsport.

On May 20, the BTJ Dancers will be on stage at The Maryland Theatre at 2 and 7 p.m. It is quite a step up from just hanging out at the Sumans Avenue Community Center.

"Giving them a goal has really been good," said Ranelle Flurie, who was director of the group even before it was a group.

The dancers work out and practice from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturdays at the Martin Luther King Center.

"They are a real high-energy group," Flurie said.

The students have been learning basic stretching exercises, mixed in with dance steps, Flurie said.

Last year, there was a public performance for parents and friends of the dancers. Now they've spread their wings into the public arena.

For much of the first two years, the group was simply known as the Saturday Dance Class.

With HotSpot funds, T-shirts displaying the BTJ Dancers name have been provided to each of the dancers, Brooks said.

Funding for the instructors comes from a grant provided by Washington County Arts Council. Funding for costumes and jazz shoes is shared by the Arts Council and Maryland HotSpot Communities.

"They're really solid - the kids really wanted to stay together," Brooks said, noting that she explored areas to get funding to make that possible.

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