Susan Sorenson: “I want you to discover how beautiful you really are.”

By Anneke Virk, Talon Staff Reporter Everyone knows that Hood River is full of outdoorsy athletes. Bikers, skiers, kiteboarders, and hikers are prevalent throughout the gorge. What people may not know, however, is that Hood River is home to many dancers as well. Hood River’s local dance programs have flourished since 1994 when Susan Sorenson began teaching her moves downtown. Susan Sorenson moved to Hood River in 1993 from Dallas, Texas. She had a bachelors of science in education with a specialization in dance, and she immediately put it to use. She started teaching modern dance classes at Bridgewater Dance Theatre under Bev Bridgewater in 1994. Bridgewater Dance Theatre was located downtown Hood River where Andrew’s Pizza and Skylight Theatre is located today. While she was teaching at Bridgewater, Sorenson took dance classes at The Workout (located on the heights, where XTC Truck and Toy is today). The Workout offered ballet and tap classes, and was owned by Charlotte Arnold. Sorenson was also taking dance classes in Portland at this time. In 1995, Arnold asked Susan if she would teach jazz classes at The Workout. Susan accepted her offer and worked as an instructor there until she bought the studio in 1999. Sorenson renamed it Columbia Gorge Dance Academy (CGDA) and expanded on the classes that had originally been offered at The Workout. At this point, tap, taught by Charlotte Arnold, and ballet, taught by Nancy Clement and Theresa Mason, continued to be offered at Sorenson’s newly-bought studio, as well as more classes taught by Sorenson herself. Sorenson’s classes included jazz, modern, and hip hop. In 2006, Sorenson relocated CGDA to May Street, its current location. She employed Christa Chandler, Heather Wright, Susan Brown, and Angie Welch. Sorenson now teaches ten classes per week and spends about 20 hours at the studio every week. She teaches over 100 students, about 40 of which are high schoolers. “I’ve been enrolled in Susan’s classes since 3rd grade.” says HRV senior and CGDA company member Alexa Lindley. “I’ve taken jazz and modern from her and her classes are always so much fun.” Lindley goes on to say that Susan is like a second mother to her. “Susan has always made me feel welcome at CGDA. She really knows how to relate to her students on a personal level. She knows when to be strict, but she never makes you feel bad about yourself or your dancing.” HRVHS graduate, Ansley Bricker agrees with Lindley’s statement. “Susan created a studio where every student can feel safe and welcome. She hates drama, and does everything she can to prevent it from entering CGDA. It was always nice to escape to the studio on weeknights in high school. Dancing every night was a great distraction from all the stress that comes along with being a teenager.” Megumi Hosaka feels the same. “Susan is awesome. This Christmas, she got each company member an engraved charm that will always remind us of our time spent at the studio. That’s just one example of how much she loves her students.” Columbia Gorge Dance Academy isn’t the only place Sorenson shares her dance expertise. Sorenson has been bringing her choreography to the Hood River Valley High School since 1995 when she became the head cheerleading coach. Sorenson coached the HRVHS cheerleading team from 1995-1997 under athletic director Glenn Elliott. She taught stunting, cheering, and, of course, dance routines. Since then, Sorenson’s choreography has been utilized by HRVHS students every year. She has helped many classes with Air Guitar choreography, and students often perform her dances at basketball games and assemblies. Sorenson has also worked with HRV music teacher, Mark Steighner, to incorporate dance routines into his musicals. She choreographed dances for Carousel, How to Succeed in Business, 100 Degrees in the Shade, Westside Story, Beauty and the Beast, Guys and Dolls, Avalon, and Legally Blonde. Susan Sorenson has been encouraging HRV to bust a move ever since she moved to the valley. She started by teaching small numbers of dancers downtown, but since then, she has greatly broadened her aim. “Of course I want to teach you teenagers to dance because I love to teach dance, and I love to dance, myself,” says Sorenson, “but I also think there is a crisis with self-esteem in young women, and one of my main goals is to have you guys come to my studio and find self-confidence and self-esteem in your bodies and your movement, no matter what your bodies look like. I want you to discover your ability to perform, and what your bodies can do, and how beautiful each and every one of you really is.”

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