When Jennifer Fortune performs at the 10th anniversary show of the Winchester Star Catchers, she'll be doing a dance she watched her brother perform near the beginning of the group's existence, although her memories of that show are probably a little vague.
"We were watching videos of earlier performances to brush up on the moves, and we noticed we could hear a baby crying," said Star Catchers founder Tiffannie Bond. "That was Jennifer."
Jennifer, who shares her mother's name and is called J2 by her fellow Star Catchers, is looking forward to literally following in her brother's and sister's footsteps.
The Star Catchers sprang from a dance class Bond has taught since 1999 at the Winchester Cultural Center, 3130 S. McLeod Drive. Bond felt the class needed to work toward something and in the spring of 2002 decided that a performance would be a suitable goal. Once the group decided to perform, the next step was picking a name.
"One day I busted out some dry erase markers and we brainstormed," Bond said. "Star Catchers won the vote. The runner-up was Almost Famous, so I'm glad we chose Star Catchers."
The group initially took its cues from backup dancers in popular music videos of the day, such as Britney Spears and *NSYNC.
"We do hip-hop, but we don't do traditional street, grungy hip-hop," Bond said. "My background is in ballet, jazz, tap, tumbling and all that. I wanted to do hip-hop but working from more traditional dance disciplines."
The formula worked. When Bond started teaching dance at the center, she had six or seven young students. So many kids joined and have stayed with the program over the decade that her senior group of dancers will break into two groups for their performance, to let each dancer have a moment to shine. The group has gone from putting on a few small recitals to performing in venues throughout the West, including trips to dance at Disneyland.
Two other dance instructors - assistant director Samantha Howard and instructor Gabrielle Angle - have been brought on to teach classes and help with performances.
The Star Catchers program recently expanded to include an independent study course for dancers 18 or older. The group has been meeting twice a week to work out choreography for a piece for the upcoming show. There is discussion of making the independent study option a permanent part of the program.
Bond attributes the group's staying power not just to her students' natural love of dance but to other elements she has incorporated into the program.
Bond shares skills gleaned from a youth leadership program she has been involved with since her teen years to encourage students to step up to leadership roles, help each other out and look out for one another.
Dancers are required to sign a code of conduct each session, which includes mundane rules such as which shoes to wear to class and a ban on gum chewing. But it goes further, forbidding Star Catchers from being involved with drugs, alcohol, violence or gangs.
"We've never had a problem with any of that," Bond said. "We wanted to create a family atmosphere and provide positive role models. Parents can only do so much these days."
Bond said for most of her dancers, being a Star Catcher is about more than coming to class and performing.
"I like the family aspect of it," said 17-year-old Star Catcher Eryanne Thurow. "It's a good group. We communicate. We get along with the instructors and the parents and the other adults who are around. We learn responsibility, discipline and respect."
Thurow, who has been in the group since she was 8, is a junior at Las Vegas Academy. She plans to study sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and hopes to have a career involving dance and kids. She has another ulterior motive for wanting to attend UNLV.
"I want to be a Rebel Girl," she said, referring to the school's cheer and dance squad.
The Star Catchers' 10th anniversary show is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday. Tickets are $7.
A Star Catchers museum filled with vintage uniforms, props and other items is scheduled to be on display in the theater an hour before the show begins. Organizers are also hoping to display artist's renderings of the new Winchester Cultural Center dance room, which is expected to be completed this summer. Concessions and a photo booth also are planned during the museum hour.
For tickets and more information, visit clarkcountynv.gov or call 455-7340.
Contact Sunrise/Whitney View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 380-4532.