Friends stop asking Kiera Hill why she's always dancing once they've seen her perform.
"They're usually pretty astonished by the work we do," said Hill, who dances with the Arts Umbrella Dance Company. "They're usually pretty inspired- They know how many hours I put in- and so they kind of understand a little better."
The public can marvel at the skill of top-level 12-to 20-year-old dancers at Arts Umbrella's Season Finale at the Vancouver Playhouse May 25 and 26.
Dancers will perform a challenging contemporary repertoire ranging from a piece performed en pointe to the music of Cyndi Lauper to a piece complete with partner work and lifts choreographed by acclaimed Vancouver choreographer Wen Wei Wang.
Hill started dancing 12 hours a week with Arts Umbrella's professional program when she was in Grade 6. The resident of West Point Grey subsequently moved on to Magee secondary's SPARTS program, which allows high-performance artistic or athletic performers to complete a half day of academic classes and then focus on their passion. She danced 30 hours a week then. Now Hill is on her toes 45 hours a week while she completes a dance diploma program that's offered jointly by Arts Umbrella and Vancouver Community College.
"It's a really hard thing to do if you don't love what you're doing, and it's really not worth it if you're not enjoying it," Hill said. "Sometimes on hard days you just have to remind yourself that OK, I'm having a rough day, but yes, I really do enjoy this and I want to continue."
Hill has had rough days in the past. The 19-year-old concedes she has dropped other things for dance.
"When I went to Magee, all my other friends went to another high school so I was all alone," she said. "And then when I was younger- I was in gymnastics and violin and swimming- As time went on, things kind of fell away and I had to make choices and ultimately I wanted to dance."
Her devotion has paid off. She and Arts Umbrella dancers Emily Chessa and Scott Fowler will apprentice with Ballet BC next season.
But for now, Hill's focused on rehearsals for the Season Finale that's part of Expressions Festival 2012, which features performances and exhibitions from all of Arts Umbrella's visual, media and performing arts programs.
She'll dance a duet in choreographer James Kudelka's upbeat "Lauper" piece and a solo in "Shadow Boxes," a highly physical number choreographed by Stephen Shropshire, artistic director of Noord Nederlandse Dans. She'll also perform in pieces by Simone Orlando, Cherise Barton and Cherise's choreographer sister, Aszure Barton.
"It's a very theatrical piece, which is challenging for us because we don't do that many theatrical pieces," Hill said of Aszure's composition. "To make it so that it's not fake and put on, you have to really be honest."
The audience will see sharper movements performed in Lesley Telford's work.
"She has a really specific type of movement that she wants and it's really hard to get. We had a three-week process with her that was really, really good, but really, really challenging and we all learned a lot from that process," Hill said. "Everyone has their set comfortable way of moving and for me, personally, that is not at all the kind of movement that Lesley likes. So I had to completely re-analyze every step and try to figure out how she wanted it done rather than how I would do it in a way that was comfortable for me."
But it's work Hill loves.
"I really like the intense hard work every day," she said. "After a performance I am just completely emotionally and physically exhausted and I feel like I've just given everything, and on stage, I feel like I can be completely open and honest and I'm not really holding anything back, and I really like that feeling of freedom that you're not always worried about what other people are thinking."
Arts Umbrella is a non-profit arts education centre for children and youth age two to 19. It caters to children of all artistic interests, socio-economic backgrounds and skill levels. The Arts Umbrella Dance Company, under the direction of Artemis Gordon, functions like a professional dance company that turns out contemporary dancers trained in a hybrid of classical ballet and modern dance. Graduates have gone on to join Ballet BC and Noord Nederlandse Dans in the Netherlands.
Evening performances at 600 Hamilton St. start at 8 p.m., with a matinee performance at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Ticket prices range from $15 to $30. For more information, see artsumbrella.com or ticketstonight.ca.
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