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Raise the Barre

- Masters Dance Challenge, presented by Raise the Barre Productions, May 4-6 at West Vancouver's Kay Meek Centre. Registration deadline: April 4. Info: FOR dancers, there's nothing like it.

- Masters Dance Challenge, presented by Raise the Barre Productions, May 4-6 at West Vancouver's Kay Meek Centre. Registration deadline: April 4. Info:

FOR dancers, there's nothing like it.

The house lights dim, the stage lights go up and the music begins. Painstaking hours of practice have gone into this moment and it's their time to shine.

While there are countless opportunities for young dancers to perform, their adult counterparts are somewhat limited when it comes to sharing their passion.

A new North Shore-based company hopes to change that by providing increased opportunities for dancers 18+ to experience the excitement and drama of taking the stage.

"Dance ends up being a life-long interest, you can't leave it alone and let it drift out of your life. Once it's there, it's there to stay," says Laurel Lawry, a partner in Raise the Barre Productions. The North Vancouver resident founded the company in January 2011 with West Vancouver's Gladys Smith. Lawry started studying dance at age two and also has a strong background in business and Smith is a retired professional dancer, former educator and studio owner.

Raise the Barre is Smith's "brainchild," says Lawry. She was frustrated by the difficulty of finding the right atmosphere for an adult dance group to enjoy themselves and feel part of something bigger.

They founded the company as a means of mounting a dance competition, viewing it as a positive way of bringing people together, allowing them to express themselves creatively, network, see what else was out there in the dance community, and of course walk away having had an experience to remember.

Lawry and Smith were also interested in launching Raise the Barre in response to the popularity of television series like So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing With The Stars and America's Best Dance Crew. They view these shows as having positively influenced people to either continue to dance or get into it at any age, to reap the health benefits of the art.

Raise the Barre's inaugural event is the upcoming Masters Dance Challenge, set for May 4-6 at West Vancouver's Kay Meek Centre. Lawry hopes to see a few hundred dances performed by people from the western provinces and states.

Beginners to semi-professional dancers are welcome to compete in two age groups, 18-40 and 41+. Categories include ballet, jazz, contemporary/lyrical, tap, musical theatre, hip hop and national/ ethnic. Individuals, duos, trios or groups are welcome in all categories.

Lawry is looking forward to the national/ethnic competition as they've so far heard interest expressed from Ukrainian, Polynesian, Middle Eastern and Chinese classical dance groups.

"That's going to be quite an exciting, diverse display of all the different multicultural aspects of Vancouver," she says.

She's also excited about interest expressed by dancers in some of the more classical forms, like ballet.

"We've had a number of groups who are thrilled to be participating in something like this because ballet, as you know, is very physically challenging," she says. "So to have the opportunity to share that art and that form will be exciting for all of us."

Categories will be judged by Jeff Hyslop, Oscar Nieto, Leigh Torlage, Teryl Rothery, Viktoria Langton and Stanislav Galimkhanov.

"The adjudicators are really amazing, very talented, really active in the dance community as well as the film, TV and fashion industries," says Lawry.

Winners will receive cash awards.

Response for the venture has been positive. "We've been working at getting the word out to studios, promotions, making the most of social media as well and online services and that's been really successful," says Lawry. "We've had such a great response from people."

She and Smith continue to be overwhelmed by comments from studios, like, "Bravo, how wonderful and much-needed!" to a woman in Victoria who wrote to say she's been running a dance school for adults for 32 years and she's thrilled that there's finally a showcase of this nature.

Proceeds from merchandise sales during the competition will go to the B.C. Centre for Ability's WeeDance Program, an adapted creative movement class for special needs preschoolers.

Community members are encouraged to attend as audience members and admission is free.

Deadline for registration for the Masters Dance Challenge, which is vying to become an annual event, is April 4.

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