For the members of the Durango Performing Arts Company, there's no such thing as a generation gap.
More than 30 young performers from the DPAC's Encore, Ovation and Bravo groups spent the waning days of summer vacation preparing for this weekend's show, "Dancing the 20th Century."
The program, choreographed and directed by Suzy DiSanto, is a living history of dance from the cakewalking Victorian era through the turn of the new millennium. The show will sample social dancing from generations who lived and died before most of the kids, who are between the ages of 12 and 18, were even born.
"It's so cool to see the older dances and how the styles have come to life," said 17-year old Durango High School junior Dallas Padovan, who performs in 17 of the 28 different numbers in the show.
"The moves in older dances like the Castlewalk are just like in modern dance - it's stayed the same but gotten more scandalous over the years," he said.
The Castlewalk, so named for social dance pioneers Vernon and Irene Castle (their most famous student was Arthur Murray), is not to be confused with the cakewalk. DiSanto included the latter in the show because of its affiliation with ragtime but it dates back to Civil War days. Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" provides the soundtrack for the unique steps.
DiSanto sounded every bit the proud mother in talking about her stable of dancers. She's known most of the kids as students in her Take the Lead program, which now has been incorporated under the DAC's nonprofit umbrella. Many of the students were her original protégées as fifth-graders when she began teaching dance in Durango School District 9-R elementary schools five years ago, and they're now entering high school with a set of social skills not seen among most of their American peers.
"They've been working so hard, and they're learning: It was all about education, and the origins of these dances, and it's incredible to see how good they are," DiSanto said.
The students watched vintage clips of dancers from the early 1900s through the '30s, the war years, the baby boom era, '70s disco ("The Hustle") and the hip-hop revolution of the 1980s and '90s, which DiSanto emphasized are two distinct styles.
For this bunch, even Michael Jackson and Madonna, who both are featured prominently, constitute "vintage."
There's also a cameo by Portuguese-born Carmen Miranda, played by Claire Young with a twist - she tap dances, something most probably don't associate with the fruit-topped Brazilian singer and dancer.
Padovan said he's a regular in school music and drama productions, but the social dance aspect, which requires a partner at all times, is something new for him. He's used to doing solo and group dances on stage but credits DiSanto for broadening his horizons and opined that it's a positive learning experience for all involved.
"She put all these (numbers) together by herself, and it's such a fun show," Padovan said of his longtime teacher.
"I remember being those little kids, and to see her help them after she did the same for us, it's just really cool."