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another chance to DANCE

Alysha Berkness spent four years dancing for a competitive high school team, and she wasn't ready to give up dance come college. Berkness, a University of Minnesota Duluth sophomore and member of the UMD dance group Attitudes, gets to choreograph...

Alysha Berkness spent four years dancing for a competitive high school team, and she wasn't ready to give up dance come college.

Berkness, a University of Minnesota Duluth sophomore and member of the UMD dance group Attitudes, gets to choreograph and perform difficult dances without the time commitment required of UMD's dance team. And if members have never stood in a kick line or performed a triple turn, that's OK, too.

The dance group's hallmark is its inclusiveness, and its 90 members prove what a draw that is.

"Attitudes doesn't focus on studio dance or high school dance," said Emily Eschelman, the group's leader. "It's a place to express yourself, and we don't turn anyone down."

This year at the group's no-pressure tryouts, 17 choreographers chose dancers based on contents of their routines and skill level, but a place was found for everyone. Students can be in one dance or several, depending on how much time they can give. Dance styles have included modern, lyrical, swing, ballet, jazz, hip-hop and can-can. Practices are held about once a week and will culminate with three nights of performances in Weber Music Hall in May. Students -- both men (two this year) and women -- make their own costumes, borrow from UMD's theater department or modify old costumes.

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"The low cost [$10] drew me to it," sophomore Annie Heggernes said. "You're not required to buy a pair of $60 jazz shoes or tap shoes. We're all poor college students."

The group exudes a non-judgmental atmosphere, Lyndi Johnson said.

"Once you're in it for the first time, you realize all the girls are so nice and you feel comfortable," she said.

Members include those who minor in dance, those who did not make the UMD dance team and those who prefer Attitudes to other dance options. Some students join to maintain flexibility and stay toned.

"It seems like you peak [your skill level] when you're a senior, and then to go to college and not dance at all ... if you're afraid of the freshman 15 this is a really good option," Eschelman said. "We have a lot of freshmen."

Heggernes, who is choreographing a piece to a song from the film "Hairspray," said practice is "a release" after intense studying.

Dancing with a studio since age 9, Berkness also choreographed for her Burnsville, Minn., high school dance team.

"The memories I made on that team were full of victory, tears, hard work ... to give up something that made me that happy would be the dumbest thing to do," she said.

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She has choreographed an advanced modern jazz piece for the May show and a jazz-funk dance with another member.

"As long as you have a dance to teach, there are girls that want to learn it," Berkness said.

JANA HOLLINGSWORTH covers higher education. She can be reached at (218) 279-5501 or by e-mail at jhollingsworth@ duluthnews.com.

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