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Young dancers in Gary learn from ‘Phantom’ master

Christopher Howard Dance Master Performer with U.S. National Tour Phantom Operteaches students dance choreography from Masquerade sectiThe Phantom Operduring musical

Christopher Howard, Dance Master and Performer with the U.S. National Tour of Phantom of the Opera teaches students dance choreography from the Masquerade section of The Phantom of the Opera during a musical theatre? ballet workshop held at Beachfront Dance School in Miller on Saturday february 22, 2014. | Charles Mitchell/for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 24, 2014 6:51AM



GARY — Christopher Howard started a bit later than most of the kids he works with, but he spent Saturday morning helping aspiring dancers, the youngest a 6-year-old, take another step toward their dance futures.

Howard, the swing and assistant dance captain with the U.S. national tour of “Phantom of the Opera,” now playing at the Cadillac Palace Theater in Chicago, held a master dance workshop at Beachfront Dance School in the Miller section of Gary.

The workshop was sponsored by the South Shore Arts Foundation, the John Anderson Foundation and the DizzyFeet Foundation.

Howard led a dozen students in stretching, classical ballet moves and even a bit of “Phantom” choreography. Later, he held a question-answer session with the students.

“It can make a lot of difference, as far as proper dance tech is concerned, because then you get those habits in your body,” Howard said of starting early in dance. “You develop physical patterns for your body, so I think the earlier you start the better.”

Howard started training in dance as a freshman at the State University of New York Buffalo at age 18, after he began studying musical theater at the college.

He has toured nationally with the musical “Billy Elliott” and “A Chorus Line” and, like his fellow cast members, Howard often holds workshops with local dance schools.

Miana Shorty, a Wirt-Emerson Visual Performing Arts freshman, said master classes like Howard’s are about more than just learning a few new steps.

“You can learn different things about the dance world, and it expands your range to not just going on company tours, but to know you can do different things,” said Shorty, who this summer will study in The Beginnings Workshop, held by nationally known author, talent scout and producer Peter Sklar.

Sklar has held several master classes at Beachfront Dance School.

“The master class actually encourages me to work harder,” Shorty said. “There are lots of people out there who can do what I do, but what makes you unique is what makes you stand out”

Master classes are no joke, dance school owner Alia Hawkins said.

“These students get pushed really hard. They don’t have a break, and they keep learning, so it’s very intense,” said Hawkins, classically trained in ballet and once a performer with the Joffrey Ballet, the American Ballet Theater and ballets in Houston and San Francisco.

Joseph Garcia, 8, of Portage, never hard of “Phantom” before Saturday, but he signed up anyway.

“I signed up for it because I wanted to see how it goes,” Garcia said. “I’m really excited because I’ve never done this before.”



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