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Song and dance: Aspire Music Academy helps young performers stay sharp

Baylee Stevenson rehearses with Sidney Green and choreographer Alora Sager (front row, from right) during a summer intensive camp at Aspire Music Academy. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 2
Lori Sager, founder of Aspire Music Academy, supervises a rehearsal during a summer intensive camp at Merrill Community Arts Center. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

WOODBURY — To aspire, you gotta perspire.

No one has to tell that to the teen singer-dancers of Aspire Music Academy, as they leap and twirl in a warm rehearsal studio at Merrill Community Arts Center. Their group, Adrenaline, is one of several age-specific show choirs at the Academy.

They're digging deep to learn the words and dance steps to "The Greatest Show," which is the sort-of title track to the movie that starred Hugh Jackman as PT Barnum. Fans are humming and bodies are glowing. Two choreographers prowl the margins of the floor, shouting out cues and stopping the proceedings to make an adjustment or two.

"We don't have air conditioning," joked Grace Stevenson, 15, of Woodbury, during a break, when asked what she thinks is the toughest part of the camp.

Singing and dancing at the same can be a challenge, said Olivia Voerster, 15, of Cottage Grove.

"At first it's difficult because you're learning new things, and learning new things is hard," she said. "Memorization is key."

From behind her keyboard, Lori Sager is clearly enjoying herself. A musician, singer, arranger and vocal coach, she founded Aspire in 2016 to provide performance opportunities for young people in grades 1-12.

The academy features half a dozen show choirs, including Sparks for children in grades 1-3 and Momentum, for young women in middle school. A new adult show choir, Encore, has 20 singers college age and older and begins rehearsals Sept. 10.

"It is all how to sing and dance better as well as the performing," Sager said. "It's sort of like a dance school."

Sager has skin in the game: she's musical director at Woodbury Community Theatre and has curated and directed four different editions of the Stars on Broadway series.

"Part of why Aspire came into being I was noticing that kids did not know how to audition," she said. "They didn't feel confident when they came in. I thought, 'How do we get kids prepared ready to go back into their schools and be the leaders and helpers and encouragers of greater performing arts?'"

Friends Olivia Bedard, 15, of Cottage Grove and Ileana Sanchez, 16, of Woodbury credit Aspire Music Academy with helping them obtain roles in Woodbury Community Theatre productions. Bedard played Roxy in their recent production of "Chicago."

"I've made so many friends," Sanchez said. "It's a big family."

During the school year, Aspire students meet twice a week and work on singing and dancing skills and technique.

"They are constantly learning and doing new things and also perfecting other pieces that are ready to go onstage so they're ready to perform at any time," Sager said. "They love the fact that they're working on their skills. They get to be with a real fabulous group of kids. It's the social aspect of being with their friends from other high schools."

If that sounds intimidating, Aspire also has recreational choirs for young kids who simply want to see what it's like to sing and dance with a group. Auditions aren't necessary.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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