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Homewood teen plans to tour the world with dance group

Maddi Stanford rehearses American Dance Center as she prepares perform with national group. | Allen Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media

Maddi Stanford rehearses at American Dance Center as she prepares to perform with a national group. | Allen Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 15, 2013 1:03PM



Head bowed. Hands steady. Feet planted, waiting.

Her solo music begins. Her head and one hand lift toward the sky, as if she is reaching for her hopes and dreams.

She dances from right to center, stretching her hands toward the audience. But then she pulls them back to her shoulder, close to her heart. As if guarding them. Telling the audience these hopes and dreams “are mine,” she says.

She was just 3 years old when she started dancing. Back then, dancing was just a complement to her ice skating. Today, dancing is so much more to Maddi Stanford.

“She has to dance to live,” her mother, Sharon, said.

When she was in eighth grade, Maddi told her mom two things: “I’m going to finish my ice skating tests and get my gold before I graduate high school, and I am going to be a dancer.”

She earned a gold medal at 16 for passing certain tests at a U.S. Figure Skating event. Now two years later, the 18-year-old Homewood resident, who graduated from Homewood-Flossmoor High School earlier this month, has been selected to tour as a dancer and singer with The Young Americans, a Los Angeles performance group.

She will start her training with the group in California this fall. She’ll spend the first year taking her general studies courses and studying singing, acting and dancing. The following year she will audition to tour in the United States, Europe, Africa or Japan. She’ll have the chance to teach performance arts to children all over the world.

She was selected from among hundreds of other dancers. And to her surprise, she made it. Though she’d never really sung before, her dancing and voice won them over.

“She told me at the convention in L.A., ‘Mom, they’re so amazing and positive. I want to be one of these positive people inspiring others,’ ” Sharon said. “When she sets a goal, she sticks to it.”

For years, she juggled ice skating practice at the rink and dance classes. She’d spend her mornings at the rink, go to school and spend her evenings in dance class.

But her last two years have been devoted strictly to dance. She took 12 dance classes at the American Dance Center, learning various techniques and styles including contemporary, modern jazz, tap and hip-hop. She spent at least 20 hours a week practicing at the studio.

One of the American Dance Center’s core values is discovery through discipline. Founders Kathleen and Jack Villari believe that if students have the discipline, the technique will develop. They started the center in 1971 to give back to the community and pass on these values to students.

Maddi had a scholarship with the center.

“Students receive scholarships to take more classes at the center based on their dedication and how much they challenge themselves to go beyond the norm,” Jack Villari said.

Her discipline and diligence earned her a spot on the advanced varsity team, the Excel dancers’ program at the American Dance Center.

With Excel, Maddi had the chance to tour to Florida, Houston, Chicago and Omaha and dance with a live band at the Orland Park Festival.

“I love having a challenge,” Maddi said.

She takes advantage of every opportunity to challenge herself and improve her technique.

The Excel group was invited to participate in the Dance Excellence International Festival in Los Angeles and Maddi took advantage of the opportunity. Her group spent a week taking intensive performing arts classes and even had a chance to work with Stacey Tookey from the TV show “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Not only did the festival give her the opportunity to audition with the Young Americans but her group also performed at the Hollywood Theatre in Disneyland.

Maddi plans to use everything she’s learned to launch her career as a dancer. It’s the only thing she can see herself doing.

“I love doing it,” she said. “When I do a routine right, it is the best feeling in the world.”



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