The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday September 27th

Dancers Find a Creative Outlet With Style

It's Wednesday night, and it sounds like there's a storm brewing inside Woollen Gym.

Strains of the Alien Ant Farm version of "Smooth Criminal" are barely audible over the thunderous rhythm of tapping heels and toes.

With ponytails bouncing, nine women clad in T-shirts and jeans unleash a hailstorm of steps, stomps, shuffles, flaps and chugs.

"Five, six, seven, eight."

Amber Sherrill, director of Carolina Style's tap company, loudly calls out steps and counts in time with the music, never slowing her feet.

"All right, that was pretty good," she says, pressing buttons on a boombox in a window sill to stop the music.

But the sounds of scuffling shoes that mimic the pulsing rhythm of "Annie, are you OK? Are you OK, Annie?" pause just long enough for Sherrill to answer a few questions about the dance steps.

Then she calls out again, "Five, six, seven, eight ..."

For the women of Carolina Style's tap company, this weekly flurry of fancy footwork is one of the few havens offered to University tappers.

"It's nice," said senior April Cook, treasurer for the dance group and three-year member of the tap company.

"The only problem is if you don't make try-outs -- if you don't make it with us -- it kind of seems unfair because there's nowhere else for you to go."

While the dancers of Carolina Style perform at an advanced level, they have been instrumental in providing an artistic outlet for UNC students who otherwise might have ended their dance careers after high school, said Lauren Yerby, business manager for the group.

"There were a couple of girls on campus who saw that there were not many opportunities for girls to dance on campus who had danced in high school," she said.

Founded in 1996, the group started out performing tap and jazz, then added a ballet company last year. In spite of the fact that the three companies are open to men and women, Yerby said she couldn't recall any male dancers in the group's history.

An entirely student-run organization, Carolina Style members all have a hand in choreographing dance routines.

"If you can't think of anything, that's great because the girl beside you knows something," Cook said.

The group performs its original routines at various campus and charity events such as the Night of the Divas and the UNC Dance Marathon. It also showcases its talents at an annual show in March.

Last fall, the directors of each company decided to open their weekly rehearsals to students as a way to make the company stronger and gain some publicity. The open rehearsals give members a chance to put a little more focus on technique rather than on choreography, Yerby said.

The jazz company meets Monday nights from 9:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. in the Student Recreation Center aerobics room. On the other hand, the rehearsal times for the tap and ballet companies vary, she said.

"There's not a lot of space available for dance on campus, so it's kind of hard to set rehearsal times," Yerby said.

Despite scheduling difficulties, the group hopes the rehearsals will make Carolina Style more accessible.

"If people are interested in joining, this is a perfect way to come and see how we are internally," Cook said.

But open rehearsals and regular performances aren't the only way to see the dancers in action.

As an annual spring fundraiser, the group offers master classes to the general public. Throughout the course of a day, the dancers teach ballet, tap, jazz and hip-hop routines for $5 a class.

And the rare opportunity to tap dance at the University shouldn't be passed up, said Cook. In order to pursue her interest, Cook travels to Duke University each week to take the one tap class offered at the school.

Until such a class is available at UNC, members say the Carolina Style experience is definitely a worthwhile alternative for dedicated dancers.

"It's good because you get a couple different styles and different influences," Cook said. "It makes you a better tapper."

The Arts and Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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