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A passion for dance

Persistence and dedication to her art land a Columbia dancer at Juilliard
Monday, May 21, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:10 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Claire Magee, of Columbia, warms up with her fellow dancers in the Missouri Contemporary Ballet Company in preparation for a performance at the Missouri Theatre. Magee was recently accepted at the Juilliard School to study ballet.

Flexed feet, pitched turns and body-wrenching lifts are mainstays of Claire Magee’s current style of dance: modern and ballet mixed with a determined attitude and a lot of power and strength. In the next phase of her dance career, she hopes to “be a sponge” when her education at the prestigious Juilliard School begins in September.

Her persistence is what Magee said caught the attention of the panel of directors when she auditioned for Juilliard in February in Chicago, leading to her acceptance into the program on April 1. She said that auditioning a first time, in New York in March 2006, helped her gain confidence and made her a recognizable face the second time around.

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“I guess I have a bit more of a presentation,” Magee said. “I’m hoping that my personality won them over.”

Magee, 19, joins 11 other female dancers in Juilliard’s class of 2011; she thinks she is only the second Columbia resident to attend the school, although Juilliard cannot confirm that. Magee plans to major in ballet but will also take classes in other areas.

“I believe that ballet is the key to everything,” Magee said. “If you don’t have good ballet training, you cannot be a successful dancer.”

A typical ballet major’s first-year schedule includes almost 15 hours of dance classes on top of 14 hours of courses, some of which are related to dance.

Magee has also decided to master the Alexander technique, a method of movement often applied to modern dance that teaches its students to re-learn habits associated with everyday movement; the goal is to improve physical and mental health and balance. Magee described it as “contact improv,” saying that dancers focus on moving their bodies rather than having their bodies move themselves.

Magee’s amateur ballet training has been entirely in Columbia, where she started dance lessons at Dancearts when she was 3. When she was 10, she transferred to Columbia Performing Arts Centre when Nancy Laurie opened it in June 1998.

“All of my teachers left (Dancearts), so my main reason (for transferring) was to continue my training with the teachers that I felt would give me the most learning about dance and technique,” Magee said.

She has danced with Cedar Lake Youth Ensemble, Cedar Lake II and the Missouri Contemporary Ballet.

Magee said she knew by age 9 or 10 that she wanted to make dancing her career; so throughout high school, she accelerated her course schedule to graduate in January 2006 from Hickman High School, a semester early so she could focus even more on dance.

“I communicated a lot with my teachers,” Magee said. “I was very motivated, and my teachers knew I would turn in my homework. I had a lot of teachers that (were) very supportive of what I was doing.”

Karen Grundy, artistic director of the Missouri Contemporary Ballet, is Magee’s longtime instructor.

“I think for Claire to go out of Columbia and see the big world and see what the real dance world is like is really important,” Grundy said. “She really needs that experience and to meet new people.”

Grundy said she tries to challenge all her dancers, including Magee. But there’s only so much an instructor can do with the resources available in Columbia and surrounding areas.

“I’m not from Columbia, so I bring a whole different genre to what dance is in this town,” Grundy said. “Bringing in different choreographers and different styles helps all dancers hone in on their skills and realize you are always trying to better yourself.”

Grundy pointed to Magee’s maturity and passion as keys to her success so far. Magee described herself as a “firecracker,” driven by her passion for dance. She said her two dreams were either to go to Juilliard or to join a company right out of high school.

“Either way,” she said, “those were going to get me where I wanted.”


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