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Living in Hillaryland

Dance teacher Hillary Whalen stands in front of a room full of eager youths, their eyes trained on her and their ears wide open as they wait for instructions.

Dance instructor Hillary Whalen takes students through a routine        for the song “Puttin’ on the Ritz”during her jazz camp last week.

Whalen, who is currently completing a bachelor’s degree in business administration with Memorial University via distance education, held a number of successful dance camps in Marystown throughout the month of August.

Born in Philadelphia, Pa., the 22-year-old lived there until the age of eight when her family relocated to Katy, Tex., the place she considers home.

Moving to the southern state served as the spark to ignite her passion for dance.

“I started dance at the age of 12, and I was dancing for my school’s dance team,” Whelan told The Southern Gazette Wednesday.

While she was a student at Morton Ranch High School, her world revolved around dance. As a member of the Maverick Belles dance team, she would perform at various competitions, football games and pep rallies.

Whalen said that although she loved to dance, it did not allow her a lot of free time.

“We would have practice every day (during the school year) and everyday during the summer. I really didn’t get a break.”

During the daily practices in the fall of the year, the dance team would go over routines that were to be performed during the football season. Once the season ended, the squad began to prepare for dance competitions.

The dance team, which has competed at national and international levels, has received several awards, including best in class at the 2007 American Dance/Drill Team regional competition in Houston, Tex., with Whalen as a member.

Whalen, herself, is also an award-winning soloist.

“We competed in Galveston, Texas. I got second place for that one for my choreography,” she said, fondly recalling the memory.

With a grin, Whalen said she lives in a magical place she calls “Hillaryland,” where everything is all dance, all the time. She said oftentimes, when she is relaxing and listening to her favourite music, which at the moment includes The Cinematic Orchestra’s “To Build a Home,” she likes to close her eyes, feel the music and picture the way one would move to the piece. She feels each turn and each jump, attempting to capture and recreate them though her dance and instruction.

Whalen’s family relocated once again five summer’s ago, this time to St. John’s, where she began her business studies at the Memorial campus.

“My interest has always been in the business world,” she said, acknowledging dancing is a rigourous activity that takes a toll on the body, and as a fallback plan, she hoped to eventually get a project control job in the oil and gas industry.

Discouraged that there was no dance team to avail of at the university, Whelan found an outlet by way of the Memorial Sea-Hawks cheerleading team.

In February of this year, Whalen was once again on the move when her boyfriend was transferred to Peter Kiewit’s Marystown operation.

She found work with the Burin Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and learned of the need for another dance program in the area while she was there.

It made her realize her dream of making a living though dance might not be that far off. Whalen came up with the idea for the dance camps as a way to test the waters. The response was overwhelming, she said.

Offering five weeks of camp, with each week focusing on a different style of dance, she said all classes had a strong showing, with ballet a little weaker than the rest, perhaps due to the fact it was already taught locally.

Due to the success of the camps, which were attended by approximately 75 students, Whalen will be offering dance classes beginning this month at St. Gabriel’s Hall. Sessions will include modern lyrical, ballet, jazz, hip hop and dance fundamentals.

Drop-in dance classes for adults, including lessons for couples as well as individuals, will also be available, the first of which will be on the cha-cha. 

When asked what she would like to see her students take away from their participation in the program, Whalen’s response was one from the heart.

“The thing that I want them to take away the most is the thing that I took away and that is respect and grace,” she said.

“I’ve learned to respect myself, to know what makes me happy, and I have stopped comparing myself to others, and that’s something especially (important) for the little girls. I feel pretty when I dance and I never want anybody to not ever feel that way.”

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