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Talented Tyke

Young dancer shows great promise

Travis M. Whitehead February 22, 2008 - 9:52AM The Monitor

McALLEN — Matthew Sparks was the first one in position for his ballet class.

With one hand grasping the metal bar, his arm swept artfully into the air in rhythm to the music, bowing his legs, arching his body according to the directions of his teacher Anne Bowling at Melba’s School of Dance and Gymnastics.

Sparks is 11 years old. He made quite an impression on the audience recently at Performance 2008 presented by Melba’s McAllen Dance Theatre. All the dancers put on a delightful show; Sparks demonstrated an advanced understanding of very different dance styles.

One of the numbers included several routines from the musical “Grease,” in which Sparks took center stage. Edwina Perez, who teaches musical theater and developed the number for Performance 2008, said Sparks has added an important asset to the school.

“It is nice to have a boy in class opposed to all girls,” Perez said. “It definitely brings another level to the class, especially since he puts so much personality and performance quality to all of his dancing.”

Sparks did, indeed, captivate the audience with the Grease number. Some might say it was because he was the only boy in many of the dance routines (Michael Ortega also performed in some acts) which also included hip-hop, jazz, tap, and musical theater. However, Bowling believes it’s more than that.

“He’s off the charts,” she said with admiration. “He started with me with jazz class. That was his first dance class. He was about 6 years old, and he was the star in my class. He was the best one, hands down. I approached him at the end of the year. I said, ‘You are gifted. Would you be interested in taking ballet?’ He said, ‘OK.’ It just came naturally to him.” Sparks, a sixth-grader at Mims Elementary School in Sharyland, said he decided to take lessons at Melba’s because his sister had also studied dance there.

“I really enjoyed my first class,” he said. “Every year I kept enrolling in a couple more classes. Now here I am doing it. I do like dancing a lot. I just like it because it gives you a challenge and you get to move to music. I have a lot of fun with it.”

Sparks has a versatility that his teachers say will make him very employable. He would, in fact, like to dance on Broadway someday. He said the jazz numbers he performed at Performance 2008 were the most difficult.

“There’s a lot of fast turns you have to keep up with,” he said. “A lot of jumps and turns.” When he’s not performing in class, he’s keeping up with his dancing at home, said his mother, Rene Sparks.

“He’s always jumping and spinning,” she said. “I am very impressed with Melba’s instruction and what they have been able to do. He’s learned a lot.”

His passion for dancing has taught him how to budget his time, she said. Mondays he has ballet, jazz and tap class for three hours. Wednesdays he studies ballet and hip-hop for two hours. Thursdays are reserved for musical theater. On top of that, he’s a straight-A student, his mother says, and he competes in University Interscholastic League contests.

Her son exhibited talent before he even began studying dance professionally. He taught himself some of the moves he saw his sister perform, and they even did a tap dance routine together.

He’s continued that accelerated pace. While most students take six years to move into the junior company, Sparks did it in only two.

“He’s very passionate about it. He really enjoys it,” Bowling said. The girls here love him. Some are older than him because he’s advanced. If he learns a new step, the class cheers.” ——— Travis Whitehead covers features and entertainment for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4452.


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