The Union Recorder

March 7, 2013

Local youth to prove their dance talents

Vaishali Patel
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — Area youth and teens are rehearsing their dance routines to perfection to showcase a winning performance in the “So You Think You Can Dance-Milledgeville” competition.

“We wanted to make a dance competition that gave back to Milledgeville, so we created this event,” said Paul Ayo, founder and executive director of Art as an Agent for Change (A.A.C.). “Attendees will witness a talented group of dancers who are right here in our community. Expect nonstop entertainment and fun. This event will become an unforgettable experience.”

Mimicking the popular reality show highlighting the dance talents of America’s best performers, the local contest is slated at 7 p.m. Saturday in Magnolia Ballroom across from Georgia College’s front campus. Georgia’s award-winning student organization A.A.C. and its Georgia College chapter are presenting the competition as its largest community production and fundraiser.

“We had a few rounds of auditions at Georgia College, the Milledgeville Mall and at Baldwin High School back in October and in late January. We narrowed the field down from 30 people to eight final contestants,” Ayo said. 

The local contestants will dance off for a chance to win the $500 grand cash prize, a $250 judges choice award, and $100 prize for the contestant that raises the most funds for their chosen charity. Georgia College music therapy professor Dr. Doug Keith, Georgia College music therapy alumna Grace Nichols and a special guest judge will name this year’s winner.

“During the night of the event, contestants will raise funds and have a moment after their dance to explain what their charity is. Charities range from local food banks and Relay for Life to the American Cancer Society. All charitable causes are supported here in the local community.”

The performers’ dancing backgrounds range from jazz, hip-hop and contemporary to ballet, musical theater and gymnastics:

• Irene Backstrom, 18, is a classical, spiritual, hip-hop and African dancer who has trained for the past four years with dance group Godly Steps. She is a senior at Baldwin High. “I dance with a determined attitude and tenacious spirit,” Backstrom said. “I put my heart and a whole lot of hard work into my dance.” Irene dances in support of the National Association of the Deaf.

• Brianna Cleveland, 11, fuses acrobatics and hip-hop. She is an Oak Hill Middle School student and trains at Cultural Connection. She has been dancing since age 3 and compares her dance style to musical sensation Beyoncé. “I can make the crowd go ahhhhh,” she said. “I’m a natural entertainer when it comes to performing on stage.” Brianna dances in support of Project Hope.

• LeDwasia Davis, 19, is a spiritual, step and hip-hop performer who has danced with the group Godly Steps in the past. She has been dancing for the past 13 years. A graduate of Baldwin High, Davis loves to perform and plans to represent for her classmates and family members. “Dance is what I love,” she said. “It’s my passion and I plan to give my community an unforgettable performance.” Davis dances in support of Chard Wray Food Pantry.

• Alexis French, 8, is a hip-hop entertainer who has been dancing since age 4. A student of Blandy Hills Elementary School, French spends after school hours practicing at Cultural Connection. “I have attitude when I dance,” she said. “It’s something I really enjoy doing after school.” Alexis dances in support of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

• Madison French, 5, is the competition’s youngest contestant. The hip-hopper trains at Cultural Connection and goes to school at Blandy Hills. With only one year of experience as a dancer, French is a natural dancer. “I’m a quick learner,” she said. French dances in support of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

• Nandi Gattis, 18, has a dancing background that includes jazz, African, contemporary and liturgical. A senior at Baldwin High, she has been dancing for the past 16 years. She has trained with dance groups Dance Steps and Rispa in Atlanta. “I love to dance,” she said. “Participating in this competition will help me pay for college.” Gattis dances in support of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

• Colin McCabe, 9, is a hip-hop dancer who has been popping, locking and break dancing since age 4. A student of John Milledge Academy, he enjoys this particular dance genre because it’s fun and requires a lot of energy. He trains at Vibe Dance Center. “All of us are good,” he said. “Hip-hop is popular, so I hope my family and friends enjoy watching me do what I love.” Colin dances in support of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

• Mollie Speights,10, is a hip-hop star and can dance alongside any one and to any music. Incorporating gymnastic abilities and ballet techniques, she compares her moves to those of professional singer and dancer Ciara. A student of Eagle Ridge Elementary School, Speights has been dancing since age 6 with Cultural Connection. “I have a flow like Ciara,” she said. “I’m a flexible, great dancer, who loves to perform.” She dances in support of the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life.

A.A.C. is a nationally recognized nonprofit organization that includes student artists, poets and musicians who collaborate in local cultural performances throughout the academic year. A.A.C. provides the community with opportunities to engage in the arts in meaningful ways.

Tickets are $5 in advance or for school employees, local students and Georgia College students. Tickets can also be purchased at the door for $7 on the day of the event. Children under age 5 are free. Funds raised will support future A.A.C. community arts events.

“Proceeds from ticket sales will go toward the creation of other art events in the community, like Artz Jamz which is a weekend art workshop for kids in Wray Homes,” Ayo said. “Come to be amazed and leave with an excellent feeling inside after the show because these contestants have worked tirelessly. It will be a dance showcase in epic proportion here in Milledgeville. Our wow factor will be in full force.”

For more information about the competition or to purchase tickets, email, or visit

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