The view is nothing short of jaw-dropping. Photos. Trophies by the score. Banners proclaiming top finishes. In short, a display of discipline, dedication and hard work leading to one conclusion: success.
This is what greets the eye upon entering the home of Starbound Performers.
The Groveland-based facility has become a fixture since 2019, but has been in existence at other locations between the past 13-to-14 years. The current facility is the realization of a dream planted years ago by Jennifer Hawkins, who has been a dance instructor 35 years.
Of those who have been guided under her tutelage, at 50 have gone on to professional careers. Some are dancers with Orlando professional sport teams. Others are cast members of traveling shows or on cruise ships. Others are connected with the attractions.
In fact, Hawkins herself had a shot at a career in New York City, one that she looks back upon without any regrets having passed up the opportunity.
Born in Philadelphia and raised in Connecticut, at age eight or nine, she not only met one of the world’s premier male ballet dancers.
“I got to meet Mikhail Baryshnikov,” she said. Hawkins was also requested to join the dance troupe with which he was affiliated.
Because of her young age, her parents had to make the decision, one they didn’t do lightly. They went back and forth on this until deciding their daughter would not become a member. Hawkins said one of the factors meant splitting apart the family, and that it would become necessary to rent an apartment for her and her mother. Of course, Hawkins was disappointed.
“It was hard, but as I grew up, I began to understand my parents,” Hawkins said.
However, her true passion was not so much performing but in teaching.
“At five to six years old I knew I wanted to be a dance instructor one day,” she said. She started teaching and coaching between ages 15-16 years old.
RECOVERING FROM COVID
Now that the pandemic appears to be over for the most part — barring any new rise in infections from any variants that appear highly contagious — the studio is once more filled with dancers of all ages; mostly young and mostly female. Because of the size of the facility, she has been among the first to reopen.
“I feel we’re slowly getting back on our feet,” she said, without a trace of irony in her voice. She said there has been a build up in pent up demand. “The month of April the phone was ringing off the hook. I have signed up at least eight to 10 new families the past few weeks.”
This, despite the fact the dance season ends in May. In fact, her dance troupe is in rehearsals for a performance set to take place May 20.
One group is practicing to “Clair de Lume” by composer Claude Debussy, choreographed by instructor Dixon Bowles, who has been a teacher at Starbound Performers five years, having moved from Idaho, where he also taught.
“I’ve been teaching dance for about 15 years now,” said Bowles.
Another three students, all youngsters, are being taught a routine by Savannah Pedersen, who joined the studio in 2018. Pederson is also a writer and director who wrote a musical that eventually toured the continent of Australia. She also boasts a special pedigree.
“I started with a career that teaches adults and youth with disabilities,” Pedersen said. With that, she took her three charges into another room to rehearse.
Starbound Performers offers a variety of classes, including tumbling, Broadway musicals, and all the dance genres. Upon occasion, there are also ballroom dance workshops.
In addition to recitals, there is also a competition troupe and this past year nine students competed. Students also attend workshops, including one at Disney World/ESPN, and conventions.
It’s good for them to see the different environments,” Hawkins said, adding another comment about competing. “Having these types of competitions are good for the kids.”
TO LEARN MORE
Starbound Performers is located at 7432 State Road 50, Suite 112, Groveland.
For classes and schedules, including possible summer calendar, call: 407-832-3343, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org