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Practice makes perfect: Donna’s Dancers appear at Orange Bowl halftime show

By Susan Shinn
sshinn@salisburypost.com
Take dazzling smiles, fancy footwork, and practice, practice, practice and add it all together.
What do you get?
Nine young ladies from Donna’s Dancers who recently performed at the FedEx Orange Bowl’s halftime show.
Making the “Orange Bowl or Bust!” trip to Miami were Lauren Haas, Shirley Trayah, Taylor Shoe, Carley Open, Brooke Arrowood, Chelsea Hatfield, Emily Baty, Marianna Stout and Natasha Small.
They’re students of Donna Painter, who’s been teaching dance since 1968.
“You can dance forever,” Painter says.
The dancers were nominated through the Professional Dance Teachers Association because of their appearance at the 2008 National Showstopper Championship.
They were among 280 dancers from throughout the East and Midwest, and the only group from North Carolina.
The dancers performed with the Doobie Brothers during the halftime show of the football game between Virginia Tech and Cincinnati.
Virginia Tech won the game, 20-7.
Not that the girls probably noticed.
Appearing at the Orange Bowl was a real confidence booster for these girls, Painter says.
“It gives them lifelong memories,” Painter says. “Seeing their eyes light up when they entered the stadium was worth the trip.”
She characterizes all of them as shy ó not that they seem to be when you meet them.
All nine talk enthusiastically about their experience.
“I liked having to be busy all the time and having something to do,” says Natasha, 15.
The girls only had two weeks to learn the two dances they’d perform at the show.
“We learned it here and polished it there,” says Emily, 12.
“The hardest part there was learning how to go in form,” says Carly, 15. “Once we were there, we got moved around and weren’t with our friends.”
“We got all spread out,” says Lauren, 17. “The girls around me were really nice and we talked.”
Shirley was the youngest dancer at age 10 ó and probably the most petite, too.
She wasn’t intimidated.
“I was OK, because I knew the routine and everything,” she says.
All of the girls have been dancing for years ó Taylor since she was 18 months old.
The 14-year-old is still dancing, she says, “’cause I love it!”
In addition to dance, Lauren is on two cheerleading squads and has also taken gymnastics.
Brooke’s favorite part of the trip didn’t have anything to do with dancing.
“Being able to swim in hot weather was awesome,” says the young dancer, 12. It was her first plane ride and her first trip to Florida.
“I loved all of it,” Carly says.
As did Marianna, 18.
About half the girls said they were nervous to perform in front of 80,000 fans.
“My job is to get everybody else destressified,” says Carly, 15, a tall, statuesque blonde.
Getting there required work from the entire studios. All of Painter’s dancers took part in a yard sale, spaghetti dinner, pizza nights and a Christmas recital to raise half the money for the $4,000 trip. The girls and their families paid the other half.
The entourage arrived in Miami on Dec. 29 for practice and a convention before their performance on New Year’s Day.
Most of the time was spent in rehearsals, although the group did have time for swimming and getting gussied up for a dinner dance.
Lead choreographer was Mandy Moore, who teaches in Los Angeles and choreographs for “American Idol.”
“She was so good to those girls and made them feel good about themselves,” Painter said. “I just loved her and so did the kids.”
The little group from Salisbury made a big impact on show organizers.
“We shone,” Painter says.
No brag, just fact.
The Bowl Games of America staff invited the girls to any bowl game they’d like to attend in 2010, and to the Veterans Day parade in New York City this November.
“They couldn’t say enough nice things about us,” Painter says.
Southern manners ó and good dancing ó go a long way. All the way to Miami.
“It was so great,” says Chelsea, 12. “It was one of the best times of my life, and I’m gonna remember that even when I become an old lady.”

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