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Richmond dancer attends N.Y. seminar

August 23, 2008

RICHMOND - For as long as she can remember, Andrea Swick has loved to dance.

Recently, her drive for perfection and stardom earned her a spot at the prestigious Beginnings Workshop in Hancock, N.Y., lead by world-renowned producer and lecturer Peter Sklar.

Sklar, who holds a master's degree in education, travels the Unites States in search of the newest, young talent. Sklar, in January, held a lecture and audition at the Brenda Casey Dance Center in Wintersville, where he chose nine students to attend his seminar in upstate New York.

Those selected included Lauren Karas, Cassidy Bland, Christa Bland, Kelsey Lewis, Max Lewis, Christy Farmer, Becka Switzer, Victoria Davis and Swick. Of the nine, only Swick elected to attend the seminar.

"There were between 30 and 50 people who attended," said Nancy Doerr, the 12-year-old Richmond native's mother.

The lecture and audition process involved Sklar first teaching the young performers about the importance of a healthy lifestyle and the discipline needed to "get into the business."

The "audition" process commenced after Sklar asked the parents to leave the room. He then walked around to each person attending and asked them a series of questions, according to Swick.

"He asks about school and why they want to be a performer," Swick said. "He didn't really ask me anything. He walked up to me, sang the 'Brady Bunch' theme song, and asked me to sit down.

"I was very surprised that he picked me. All I was doing as he was observing was giggling. I was so nervous, I couldn't do anything else. I just giggled and giggled and giggled."

Doerr said that Sklar didn't waste anytime making his decision.

"He's very intuitive," Doerr explained. "He can look at a child and make a decision based on his observations. He made his decision within 15 minutes of his lecture."

Upon acceptance into the program, Swick and her family made arrangements to travel in June to the New York workshop, founded by Sklar in 1984.

"She had an opportunity to choose between seminars in New York, London and Hollywood, but we chose New York," Doerr said.

The five-day workshop began each morning with a wake-up call at 6:40, Swick noted, followed by an intense schedule of dance, theater, vocal and Thai Chi classes.

"(The schedule) was to teach us about what is expected of us in the professional business," Swick said. "It teaches discipline and self control."

The diet also was strict, Swick noted, adding that it consisted of organic food and no dairy.

Swick, during her stay, was able to learn from some of the biggest names in the business, including Wayne Williams, the professional instructor and performer of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; Laura Osnes, winner of the NBC-TV contest "Grease: You're the One that I Want"; Arnold Mungioli, former executive director of theatrical casting for the Disney company; and Ben Cameron, who recently appeared with the original cast of Broadway's "Wicked" in 2003.

Swick studied all forms of performing arts while attending the seminar, but her favorite classes remained in dance.

"(Williams) made me feel like I could do anything," Swick said of her New York dance instructor. "But they were all every encouraging and very nice. I learned so many new things that I can't recall it all."

Parents of the Beginnings Workshop participants were allowed to attend the Showcase on the last day. Talent scouts from Disney and Nickelodeon also attended to scope out the participants' abilities.

"If they thought they saw raw talent, they would call Peter and he'd call you," Swick said. "But you have to be in the New York area to be picked or be absolutely amazing."

Doerr said that by the end of Swick's stay, she noticed a drastic improvement in her daughter's performing abilities.

"I noticed a difference right off the bat," Doerr said. "Her demeanor was so mature.

"I felt this was a golden opportunity for her to see if this is what she wanted to do. It helped her in so many areas."

Swick, now having attended one of Sklar's seminars, is eligible to return at any time. Her plan is to continue to succeed at dance until she ends up on Broadway.

"I'm going to keep dancing through high school and then, for college, I'm going to major in dance," Swick said.

Swick, who was presented with the Junior Student of the Year award in 2007, is currently in her sixth year at the Brenda Casey Dance Center where she participates in jazz, tap, ballet and lyrical and also is a first-year member of the Gold Duster dance troupe.

Swick is a student at Bishop John King Mussio Junior High and is a first-year Junior Crusader cheerleader.

"My advice to someone who might attend the workshop is, 'don't give up,'" Swick said. "Even when it's really hard, you pull through it. Just dance, sing, act or perform from your heart."

(Sadler may be contacted at

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