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Valley Oak Dancers Get Disney Opportunity
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A group of performers, along with staff members from Valley Oak School of Dance, traveled recently to Disneyland, the third time the local dance studio has earned the prestigious invitation and the second time they were able to travel to perform. Several family members also attended. Photo Contributed

After 35 years as the business owner of Valley Oak School of Dance, it might be fair to say Leslie Ozbirn is still passionate about what she does. Just as she loves to share her passion with young dancers, she equally enjoys offering them opportunity beyond the Oakdale community.

Recently, Ozbirn was able to accompany 19 dancers and their families to Southern California to participate in The Disney Imagination Campus Program.

“It’s a lengthy process,” Ozbirn said of applying for the opportunity. “We have to audition, send audition tapes of some of our girls and our choreography, so that Disney can approve all of that.”

This year marked the third time Valley Oak Studio was accepted; however, due to COVID, only the second time for the experience.

As an accepted studio, the dancers were able to take a 90-minute private class from accomplished dancer/choreographer Heidi Jarrett, as well as give a 30-minute performance at California Adventure Park.

The 19 dancers that were selected for the opportunity were chosen by Ozbirn. The studio owner shared she tends to select dancers with a ballet and jazz background between the ages of 12 and 18.

“They can go at a younger age,” she said, “but I like for them to have a bit more maturity and be prepared. Since it is such a large group and one Master Class, I want the level to be across the board well enough that it can be a positive experience for everybody.”

Once the Studio got word of their acceptance, the work to prepare for the 30-minute show went into full swing. Beginning last fall the young women would spend each Monday attending an hour and 15 minute classes in ballet, as well as jazz.

“That was every Monday, plus they had their other dance classes during the week,” the owner said. “Then we also had extra rehearsals that were held Fridays and Saturdays as it got closer. It was a huge, huge commitment for the girls.”

Ozbirn shared feelings of gratitude for her dancers and having such an amazing opportunity, noting that many of them had not experienced training beyond her Oakdale studio, let alone the opportunity to perform before such a diverse audience.

“The opportunity for them to take a Master Class from someone who is in the business and has such positive energy is just a self-esteem booster for these kids,” she said.

Ozbirn noted that choreographer Heidi Jarrett shared that people come from all over the world to go to Disneyland and that these dancers would not need to travel the world for their talents to be seen.

Dancers Selah Felty, 18 and Rylee Inglis, 17 were fortunate enough to have had the experience for the first time four years ago.

“The first time around it was such an inspiring experience and taking the workshop with someone that’s professional is a great self-esteem booster,” Selah said. “It was amazing to work with someone that was professional other than our dance teachers.”

The theme of the 30-minute show they performed was “Live the Magic,” comprised of dance numbers using music from various Disney shows.

“It was cool getting to learn from a Disney cast member,” Emma Humphrey, 13, said.

“The workshop person we had was very energetic. She helped calm our nerves and got us out of our comfort zone,” said 15-year-old Savannah Courtney. “It was really fun.”

“It just brought us out of our comfort zone and really gave us what we needed. Especially to perform there the next day,” Rylee added.

Ozbirn echoed the love for the Master Class and how the cast member connected with the dancers.

“She was very complimentary of our girls,” Ozbirn said. “She focused more on choreography versus technique to help the girls understand what an audition process would be like. So giving them quick things to learn, moving on to something else and then coming back and having them have to remember all the different sections of choreography she had taught. She was so positive with the girls. She was able to bring things out of them with her energy and what she shared on what they need to be able to do to continue their career.”

The confidence the dancers gained as a result of the Master Class is something Ozbirn felt will carry forward not only in their dance, but in life as well.

“One of the things she said to our dancers was, there’s only one you. No one can do what you can do and I thought that was so poignant,” she said. “To remind these kids, they’re individuals and they can walk into a dance class or Master Class and see people who maybe they think are so much stronger than them, but someone else may be looking at them and see they’re gifts and talents.”

The performance itself also was important to the studio owner.

“I’ve worked with some of these kids since (they were) babies,” Ozbirn shared, emotion filling her voice. “As instructors we probably spend more waking hours with them during the week than their parents do. Just to see them be so happy and see them with so much joy and such confidence in that moment was just so thrilling for us.”

Staff members assisting Ozbirn were Chelsea Day, Makayla Hauser and Petra Inglis.

“As a team we worked together to prepare these beautiful young dancers to have the experience of a lifetime,” Ozbirn said.

Taking the stage at Disneyland, a group of performers from Valley Oak School of Dance seized the opportunity to shine. Photo Contributed