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The Waterford High School dance club had only seven students in the 1994-95 school year, when 1970 Waterford High graduate Paula MacDougall took over as club director. Last month, 63 students took part in the club's annual performance.
What made this year's production special was that it capped off MacDougall's 20th year as director of the club, which started more than 50 years ago.
Dance club is a labor of love for MacDougall, who retired from work as a physical education and health teacher at the high school four years ago.
"Most of my dancers do not take dance lessons. Most have never danced before and I enjoy giving them an opportunity to dance and perform on stage," she wrote in an email. "It is very satisfying when you see these students and how excited they get when it comes to show time."
The club differs from a dance team in that it is not competitive and the dancers don't perform at sports games.
Still, rehearsals require a consistent time commitment. Dancers practice two hours a day, three days a week, September through November during the fall sports season. Come December, two-hour rehearsals take place each weekday, followed by a three-hour rehearsal on the weekend.
MacDougall said that the schedule can be overwhelming at times. Club alumni and more experienced student dancers help her with rehearsals when possible.
Waterford High 2006 graduate Andreanna McKinzie, of Glastonbury, has volunteered to aid in rehearsals for the past four years. She said she returns to the club because of how MacDougall has impacted her.
"She's always been a role model ever since I was in high school," she said.
MacDougall celebrated her 20th anniversary performances March 14 and 15 by inviting alumni to attend and take a bow with performers at the end of each show. She adorned the school lobby with posters from past years' performances and photos of this year's dancers.
This year's shows included a mix of modern dance and contemporary pieces, choreographed by students and MacDougall. Dances ranged in tone from the upbeat modern piece "Blast" to a more somber tribute piece called "Heaven."
Waterford High senior Ashli Rossi, 17, choreographed "Heaven," set to a Beyonce song by the same name. She dedicated the piece to Joshua Eudy, a Waterford High teacher and sports coach who passed away last year. Eudy coached the volley ball team Rossi was on.
Rossi said she's sad to be done with dance club. She said she enjoyed the after school activity's collaborative environment.
"It's a whole other side of dance, really," she said.
MacDougall said the 900-seat high school auditorium was packed for the performances, leaving standing room only at the March 14 show.
She described the club as "like my creation." In addition to keeping her busy in retirement, it makes her feel like she's giving back, she said.
Asked how much longer she plans to stay with the program, she said, "I don't know, maybe forever."