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Dancing Machine

Hometown hero: Jay Franke returns for Dallas Dance Gathering.

If you didn't spend the better part of puberty at a performing-arts high school, then any impressions you may have formed about such a creative curriculum are probably based on the idealized experiences depicted in Fame, the movie that chronicled a group of adolescent misfits who were young, gifted, talented, and loaded with teen angst. If you believe that screenplay, the performing-arts alternative school was an upbeat, high-energy forum for kids who simply wanted to dance, sing, make music, make their mark on the arts world, and thereby "live forever." Hooray for Hollywood, you might say, but the school in the movie was actually modeled after New York's High School for the Performing Arts, and the plot and characters ostensibly relied on former students' real-life adventures.

What was missing from Fame is what comes after such an enriching, arguably unrealistic, four years of immersion in such a singularly focused environment. You can get a pretty good impression about that every year in Dallas when Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts holds its annual Dallas Dance Gathering. Some successful and some up-and-coming American dancers got their start at Dallas' arts magnet, which was created in 1976 and is still located deep in the Arts District downtown.

Lily Cabatu Weiss has been on the dance faculty since 1978, and she's the powerhouse behind the annual gathering, an open-to-the-public evening of dance performances by former students who return to Dallas to strut their stuff in front of the hometown crowd, and who also teach class for Booker T. Washington high school students and local dancers while they're in town. Among the former graduates coming home for this year's event are Jay Franke, who went to Juilliard after high school and danced with Twyla Tharp in New York and Hubbard Street Dance Company in Chicago; fellow Juilliard grad Adam Hougland, currently dancing with Jose Limon Dance Company after a stint with the Toronto Dance Theatre; Jessica Lang, who also danced with Tharp's company and currently works as a choreographer for American Ballet Theater's studio company in New York; and John Mead, who recently danced with Utah's Repertory Dance Theatre. Grad Dylis Croman will try to make it back for the weekend in between performances with the national touring company of Fosse.

Weiss says another important purpose of the Dallas Dance Gathering is to invite and encourage local freelance choreographers and dancers to participate in performance pieces. "We've found a wealth of talented, creative people in Dallas who might not want to get an entire body of work together for a full evening performance, but still want a venue to produce one or two pieces of creative work," Weiss says. "It gives the public and our current students a real motivation to continue in the field." Well-known local dancer and freelance choreographer Sherri Lacey Segovia will debut her latest contemporary composition featuring Lori Darley, who founded and ran Dallas' Dancers Unlimited for 20 years, as a principal dancer at 8 p.m. Friday.

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