Since 1997, Balance Dance Company artistic director Leah Stevens Clark has trained and sent her students into the dance world. They've gone on to study at North Carolina School of the Arts, Boston Conservatory, Sarah Lawrence and Barnard colleges.
"We aim to give our dancers the skills they need for success for a career in dance, or whatever field they choose," Clark says. "And the older I get and the more students I train, I realize it's more about discipline and hard work than about talent."
Two of her students will perform in Boise this week - one who came home to dance, another who is on tour with the international dance company Momix.
IDAHO DANCE THEATRE'S CASEE HOGG
Casee Hogg returns to Idaho Dance Theatre as the company opens its 25th season.
The concert is filled with work by artistic directors Marla Hansen and Carl Rowe, company member Gonzalo Valdez and Off Center Dance's Kelli Brown.
Hogg grew up in the Treasure Valley. From her family home in Caldwell, her mom drove her into Boise four nights a week so she could dance.
She joined Balance when she was 11 in the company's second year and that, she says, pretty much ensured she'd go on to have a career.
"That was the first time I experienced choreographers coming in and teaching us new movement," Hogg says. "It was an atmosphere that prepared you for the real world and I loved it."
Hogg danced with Balance until she went into the University of Idaho's dance program. Then she joined Idaho Dance Theatre for the first time as an apprentice in 2006.
Later that season, she became a company member and one of its strongest performers.
She has a powerful presence on stage with a movement grounded deeply in modern technique.
Hogg went to New York City in 2009 for a summer intensive at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. That move started her on an adventure, she says.
"Being in New York was such a great experience," she says.
She got a place in Queens, waited tables and danced. Then Hogg got an opportunity to wait tables at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck, N.Y.
That job was a turning point because in between lunch and dinner shifts, she discovered yoga.
"It completely changed my life," she says. "It calmed me down. I used to have anxiety issues but I've learned to breathe. I used to use my whole body and push through everything. Now I know you need certain muscles for movement. The rest can relax. Dancing is more enjoyable now."
This summer, Hogg felt the pull toward home and to dance.
"It's nice to be back," she says. "I love the pace of Boise, reconnecting with old friends and being back with Marla and Carl - it's such a creative environment - I feel like I've never left."
MOMIX'S GRACI MEIER
Graci Meier returns home Thursday to perform in Momix's touring production "Botanica," a breathtakingly beautiful fantasia on a Victorian garden.
She's the third Boise dancer to join Momix, a company founded by visionary choreographer Moses Pendleton, who also co-founded the groundbreaking movement group Pilobolus in the 1970s.
Before Meier, Erin Elliott and Tsarra Bequette both danced for and originated movement with Pendleton. Bequette is currently on a break from the company.
"Moses is definitely a genius and he brings out the best creative energy in all of us," she says. "Even when you're exhausted, you want to pull out something that makes him see something new."
"Botanica" played here in 2012 with Bequette in the cast. Now, it's Meier's turn to transform into marigolds and other fantastical creatures before a hometown audience.
Meier, 24, grew up in Boise, where she began dancing at 3. She got serious at 6 and started at the Ballet Idaho Academy, where she joined the apprentice company as a teenager.
"I think I was a peasant in every ballet they did," she says.
She met Bequette at Ballet Idaho, who encouraged Meier to try a Balance class. Shortly after, she joined. Clark and artistic associate Helene Peterson changed her way of moving and her life, she says.
"They're amazing," Meier says. "Balance makes strong, independent women who are go-getters in dance or any field. I owe them a lot."
Like Bequette, Meier went on to the Boston Conservatory and to audition for Momix. She got the gig as an understudy in 2010 and became a full company member soon after. Though she keeps a place in New York City, Meier spends much of her time on the road.
"I've been to five continents," she says. "It's hard living out of a suitcase, and sometimes I long for my own bed. But when I'm home for a few days, I'm ready to go again."
Meier and the company head to Germany for four months on Nov. 25.
Meier keeps a close connection with Clark and Balance. She often teaches when she's on break and has choreographed today's Balance dancers.
"I'm so excited for Leah and Helene to see the show - and my whole family," Meier says. "My birthday is the next day. I'm so lucky to be able to turn 25 in Boise."