1 of 9
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Dancer Haley Hilton gets help on a step from instructor Jillana Hess Webb during class Tuesday.

Twenty-five years ago, Salt Lake Dance Center opened its doors at the old Garfield School to students looking at dance for both careers and fun. Artistic director Jillana Hess Webb's goal was to give dance students the same training she had received from her father, Neil Hess.

"My father was my major influence," Webb said during an interview. "He was with the Texas Musical Drama, and my sisters and I grew up with dance in our homes."

Webb said she wanted Salt Lake Dance Center to offer a well-rounded curriculum of different types of dance. Although she and her sisters trained mostly in ballet, she also knew tap and jazz were

important in rhythm and body development.

"We started with 60 students in the Garfield School," Webb remembered. "It was such a great feeling, though, to work with these kids and see their development as people and dancers."

A few years later, the Salt Lake Dance Center moved to it's present location at 537 E. 2100 South. Today, the school trains more than 200 students between the ages of 3 and 17.

The classes are held year-round and include ballet, jazz, tap and hip-hop, said Webb, a graduate of the University of Utah, who has also trained with the New York City Ballet, the Chicago Opera Ballet and the Patricia McBride Ballet Company.

"We give the same training to those students who want to go into dance as a career and those who are just in it for fun.

"The rewards of the school are many," she said. "Seeing one student who was so shy that she didn't even look at me for a year blossom into a wonderful dancer was a very nice event in my life."

The staff is comprised of professional dancers, some of whom are former students of the Salt Lake Dance Center.

"We have instructors from Odyssey Dance Theatre and the New York City Ballet," said Webb, whose sisters, Alexia Hess-Sheehan and Lisa Hess, were part of the New York City Ballet. "So, it's a very well-rounded and well-trained staff."

In fact, Webb said, some of the center's serious students have later joined ballet companies across the country.

Three current students have been accepted into the prestigious American Ballet Theatre School summer programs. Libby Cooper, 14, and Haley Hilton, 13, will attend the ABT school in New York City, while Janae Davis, 14, has been accepted into the ABT program in Detroit.

"We are so proud of them," Webb said. "ABT is where Mikhail Baryshnikov, Natalia Makarova and Ethan Stiefel all danced in their prime."

The Salt Lake Dance Center performances at Kingsbury Hall this week will help celebrate the organization's 25th anniversary. Webb hopes that former students and friends will attend.

"It's just something that doesn't happen often in a dance-studio life," Webb said. "And the fact that we are still training dancers is a great accomplishment for us."

If you go . . .

What: Salt Lake Dance Center, 25th Anniversary Performance

Where: Kingsbury Hall, University of Utah

When: Wednesday and Thursday, 6:30 p.m.

How much: $7

Phone: 581-7100

E-mail: [email protected]