CRESTVIEW — Through regionally, state and nationally recognized performing arts programs, Crestview High School’s curriculum serves young vocalists, musicians and actors.
But to practice these often newly discovered gifts, local performing arts students usually must search beyond Northwest Florida.
Not so for Hannah Teal Kania and Aaron Stowell, who can stay here in their hometown to professionally indulge their passion for dance.
“I never thought I’d get paid to follow my passion,” Hannah said. “So many people work hard to earn money to do their hobbies, but they don’t have time to do it. I get paid to do mine!”
Through happenstance, Aaron, a 2008 Bulldog alumnus, and Hannah, a 2010 grad, landed jobs as dance instructors at the Crestview Fred Astaire Dance Studio.
“Neither of us, before this, had any ballroom dance experience,” Aaron said. “For me, every job I ever had since graduation was in Destin. I moved back to Crestview and was walking down Main Street looking for a job and I saw a ‘now hiring’ sign in the window.”
Aaron said while he was completing his application, a senior instructor looked over his shoulder and said, “Can you start tomorrow?” Aaron began the intensive training program the next day.
“A week later I was hired,” he said.
Hannah — a student at Northwest Florida State College, where she is dance captain for the Soundsations show choir — encountered Fred Astaire studio owner David Colón while working at a grocery store. He asked her if she knew any female dancers.
“Then he asked me, ‘Well, what about you?’” Hannah said.
“Later, my husband and I were driving down Main Street and we passed Fred Astaire and he said, ‘Weren’t you offered a job there? Well, we gotta stop now!’”
Both dancers had some basic dance experience during their school years, including performing in the Crestview High School chorus’ elite Chanticleer show choir. Hannah was in the school’s color guard, Winter Guard and rifle teams, while Aaron did gymnastics and cheerleading in middle school.
This experience, coupled with a love of dancing, was exactly the criteria Colón and his wife, Erika Moreno, looked for.
“They like to start their instructors with a clean slate rather than trying to break bad habits experienced dancers might bring in,” Hannah said.
Dancing for a living takes determination and hours of practice, but the duo said the effort is worth it.
“There’s people who go out there (on the dance floor) and dance and look great, but there are those who go out and look amazing,” Aaron said.
“Our work day technically starts at 1 in the afternoon, but we’re sometimes here at 8 or 9 in the morning, and we’re here sometimes to 9 or 10 at night. That’s when you start to notice improvements and you begin to win competitions.”
“It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it,” Hannah said.
In Hannah’s first competition, the December 2012 Emerald Coast Dance Championship, the hard work paid off when she placed third in two events. Aaron also brought home a third-place award.
While at competitions, the dancers get to meet professional dancers from throughout the region and glean valuable insights.
“Being part of the performing arts you have the opportunity to meet so many amazing people,” Aaron said. “Just getting to meet them and talk to them backstage helps you see how they started out in small studios and moved up. It’s inspiring to us to meet them and hear how they did it.”
Hannah and Aaron are eagerly awaiting word on whether one of their first big breaks into the performing arts world will become a reality.
Last week, they auditioned for producer David Winters’ film “East Side Story,” a retelling of “West Side Story” but about dancers from opposite backgrounds. Winters starred in both the original Broadway cast as well as the 1961 film version of “West Side Story.”
“I’ve been sleeping with my phone on my pillow waiting for the call,” Hannah said.
Having a pair of local young dancers on their staff was fortunate for the studio’s owners.
“Finding them has been luck for us,” Moreno said.
“We like having local people,” Colón said. “They’re known in the community and we like keeping the business in town.”
And Hannah and Aaron like finding a hometown opportunity to pursue their passion.
“A lot of people don’t believe that you can get these opportunities here in little Crestview,” Hannah said.
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Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.