A dancer living the dream

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I've been following Amber Alonzo's dance career since she started classes at the park district, at age two. Along with her tiny pals, Clara and Jackie, she went on to Panda Dance Studio, in Oak Park. At age 28, Amber is still taking dance classes. She's also director of Expression Dance Studio.

In three years, Amber has attracted over 300 students to her storefront studio, 21 W. Quincy St., in downtown Westmont. An accomplished teacher, Amber also flies in professional instructors from around the country for three-day sessions of intensive dance. Now she's helping establish the Foundations Performance Center, in Lyons.

The center is in a building owned by Amber's aunt and uncle, who operate Stella's Baseball Batting Range.  The 6,200-square-foot building, at 3902 Joliet Ave., in Lyons, was previously used for basketball, but Amber's relatives had grown tired of the late hours of local hoopsters. Working together with her business partner, Kate Jablonski, and family and friends, Amber has transformed the building into a state-of-the-art performing space.

The facility will host recitals for Kate's Beyond Words Dance Company and Amber's Expression Dancers. (It also serves as home to 115 of Miss Mickey's Tiny Dancers.) Having their own space for recitals means Amber and Kate won't have to rent out theaters for $200 per hour.

It took two months, many dollars and lots of sweat-equity to renovate the former basketball facility. One of Amber's dance parents designed the stage. Her uncle built it along with the mirrored wall. Another parent fashioned the stage curtains. Amber said the performance center was "made with love."

The facility's unique feature is a movable wall that can be used to divide classrooms, or create a spacious theater. There are risers for the seating and professional lighting for the stage. The partners envision renting it out to theater groups, musical performers and other dance troupes.

Like Amber, Kate is in her third year of teaching: she's currently instructing 38 dancers, ages 10-18. Kate's cutting edge choreography has attracted international attention. A British singer saw Kate's troupe dance to one of her songs, and now the singer's flying here from the UK to make a music video with them. Kate got started as a choreographer teaching dance in the same park district room where Amber did her first tap step.

Amber and Kate spoke about the many benefits of dance. It exercises the mind, body and soul, all at the same time, they explained. It gives students a chance to display passion and artistry. They develop physical strength and stamina, while becoming more poised and confident. "Dancing is finding your inner voice and speaking with your body," Kate said, "It's so good, it's beyond words."

Foundations Performance Center's ceremonial grand opening will be on Oct. 22, at 7 p.m., at the Lyons studio. It will feature dancers, musical performers and booths for vendors. You'll also get to meet a former two-year-old from Forest Park who is living her dream.

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.

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