SPANISH FORK -- They're about four feet tall and shy about dancing with partners, but on stage they are an energy explosion. They're Tyros -- the newest batch of show choir performers at American Leadership Academy in Spanish Fork. The group of elementary students, along with their junior high and high school counterparts, spent July 26 through 29 learning from some of the top choreographers in the nation, then showcased their new moves in a rehearsal concert Saturday.
"One of my goals is to continue progressing toward excellent show choir productions in competitions," said director Rick Lunt, who brought the show choir program to ALA in 2008. His students have earned an impressive collection of awards, including grand champion, best music combo, best soloist and best choreography at competitions around the country. That is no small feat, considering they are competing against much larger schools from the East and West coasts, whose students participate in invitationals almost weekly, Lunt said.
"Rick has really made a name for himself," said Gabe Henderson, who has four children in show choir at ALA.
"We love show choir because our kids don't just learn how to sing and dance," said Henderson's wife, Deidre. "They are learning valuable life skills, how to work together and persevere."
Deidre Henderson appreciated seeing one of her younger daughters, who was naturally shy, "really come out of her shell to speak and interact with others" as she participated in show choir.
"That's something Rick Lunt and his assistants do very well," said choreographer Damon Brown. "They're interested in developing the performers as whole people." At the retreat, the choirs spent over an hour each day on "team building and motivation, which makes a big time difference," he said.
Brown, who choreographed the initial show choir for the hit TV show "Glee," flew in from Indiana to work with the ALA performers. "Kids are very peer conscious," Brown said. "Helping them develop trust in themselves and each other is essential, because as a performer, if you feel bad about yourself, it's hard to make the audience feel good about you."
Choreographer Gates Crisler flew from Mississippi to attend the workshop. "I work with dozens of junior high, high school and college groups each year," he said. "What ALA has is very rare in terms of talent, respectfulness and heart. The caliber of students reflects Rick Lunt's leadership and the families they represent. There's something special going on in Spanish Fork."
For performers, a major draw of choir is socializing. "It's like having a another family," said Amanda Baadsgaard, a junior in her second year with the high school group Evolution. "I'm not worried about having friends at school."
Friends and the chance to work with Lunt seem to be good motivators. "Anytime my teenagers are willing to get up at 6 a.m. to get to rehearsal, I'm pretty impressed," said Gabe Henderson.
Britton Zeeman, a junior who is new to Evolution this year, said, "The people are really nice and help each other. I appreciate that because I'm still learning how to dance."
The learning curve was steep during the retreat week, with each group learning complete choreography for two to four songs. Once the school year starts, Lunt will work with the students on vocals and eventually add costumes and a live band.
Are they headed for more competition glory in the months to come? Competition tours are slated for Los Angeles and Branson, Mo.
"It's amazing what they accomplished in a week," Crisler said. "That's something you rarely see elsewhere."