Powell dancing her way to a dream

August 09, 2009|By JANET HEIM

BOONSBORO -- With the rising cost of college these days, the push to get scholarships can be a big factor when choosing a college.

Rachel Powell of Boonsboro knows that reality well.

A 2009 graduate of Boonsboro High School, Powell's top choice was Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, but with an older sister in her fifth year at Duquesne, it was going to take a generous scholarship to make that dream come true.

That dream was realized when she learned she was selected to be part of the Duquesne Tamburitzans, a multicultural song and dance company. The world-renowned troupe is made up of about 30 dancers.

Ten male and nine female students auditioned this year, with only six men and two women being selected. Powell, daughter of Dennis and Marlene Powell, said she was the only female dancer from the United States to be selected this year. The second woman was from Bulgaria.


For Powell, the combination of the Tamburitzan scholarship and an academic scholarship total $24,000 each year.

"My parents are very happy," said Rachel Powell, 18.

And so is she. Had she not made the dance group, she might have had to go to Point Park University in Pittsburgh for at least her first year. She received a scholarship from that school that would have required her to major in dance.

Instead, at Duquesne, she can major in business and use her dance skills on the side.

Powell, whose family is of Serbian descent, said she first saw the Tamburitzans perform when she was about 11. She went to the performance with her mother and grandmother in the Pittsburgh area, where there is a large Serbian population.

It was at that performance that she set the goal to audition for the group when she was old enough. In the meantime, Powell continued to take dance lessons at Antietam Ballet Theatre in Sharpsburg with Carolou Russell as her primary teacher, dancing with Hagerstown School of Ballet her senior year after Russell closed her studio for health reasons.

Powell is a member of St. Catherine's Eastern Orthodox Church in Hagerstown, where she was part of a youth dance group. Most of her exposure to folklore dance has been through church activities, Marlene Powell said in an e-mail.

Rachel also danced briefly with the troupe at St. Peter and Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Frederick, Md., and with a folklore group at St. Luke Serbian Orthodox Church in Potomac, Md.

For years, she attended St. Sava Shadeland camp near Lake Erie in Pennsylvania, and for two of those years attended the folklore dance week. Powell thinks her musical talents on saxophone, piano and oboe also helped in the audition process.

She also credits her piano teacher, Pam Lego, and former band director, Heath Wilcox, who helped her prepare music for her 15-minute audition.

"It's a dream come true truthfully. It's a small group, like a family. I'll have the chance to make friends before school starts," Powell said.

Powell attended a Tamburitzan training camp that ran from July 14 to Aug. 7 at Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pa. The new and returning members learn a new production each year, working with choreographers who are flown in from around the world.

The group began touring Saturday and is heading to Wisconsin.

The two-hour program -- which will be performed about 80 times throughout the year on weekends and during semester breaks as the group travels around the U.S. and Canada -- showcases the music and dance of Eastern and Southeastern Europe.

According to the organization's Web site, it began in 1937 as a musical group of 12 men who played a folk instrument called the tamburitza. With time, it evolved into a group of student performers "dedicated to preserving and perpetuating the cultural heritages of Eastern Europe and its neighbors."

Each Tamburitzan performer is a full-time student at Duquesne University, studying the academic field of his or her choice.

"It will help me personally. I'll just be doing Tamburitzans and school work," Powell said, who said she is well aware of the huge time commitment required for both.

For more information about the Duquesne University Tamburitzans, go to

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