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Dreams in Motion

March 18, 2001|IRIS SCHNEIDER | Los Angeles Times

Fourteen Southern California high school students stood poised last week to leap not only across a Los Angeles dance studio, but also perhaps into the world of professional dance. The students, some of L.A.'s finest, had a chance to stretch and grow with a master when Matthew Rushing, a principal dancer with Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, taught a master class in jazz and modern dance to the group of Music Center Spotlight semifinalists.

In a rehearsal room at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Rushing had the students stretching and moving for almost two hours, then finished the class with a beautiful but complicated combination that had them undulating and leaping across the room, all to the beat of African drums.

The Spotlight awards competition was started in 1988 as a way to recognize and promote the area's most gifted young people planning a career in performing and visual arts. Years ago, Rushing was one of those young people. He won a Spotlight award that helped start his career in dance, and he has returned to work with the new contenders for several years.

"I really enjoy working with kids at this age. They are making extreme decisions as to which way to go after high school. They are at a very delicate time," Rushing said, as he reflected on how the scholarship he won in 1991 changed his life. "It was a great honor, one of the first scholarships I won," he said. "It boosted my self-esteem and opened my eyes." He went on to train in New York with Ailey's second company and, within two years, won a spot with the main company, which performed here last week.

"It's hard to determine who will make it," Rushing said of the kids in the class. "Some of the most talented dancers don't achieve their dreams." But his motivation remains clear: "I try to give them as much information--and inspiration--as I can."

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