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When people hear the word dance, they often think of tall, elegant girls dressed in tutus, walking on their toes while classical music plays in the background. They think of ballet slippers or tap shoes. Three-hour recitals often come to mind.

However, Creative Dance Classes for Children in Cheektowaga breaks all the rules and shatters the stereotypes. Run by Deborah Lipa-Ciotta, a native of Buffalo, Creative Dance strays from the classic styles of dance and focuses on new, modern styles. The program accommodates dancers of all ages, from young beginners to more experienced teenage dancers.

"I love teaching all ages and ability levels," said Lipa-Ciotta. "It is so rewarding to teach the most beginning students to the most advanced."

The Creative Dance Company, a program started in 2009 for dancers ages 8 to 16 is modeled after other creative and modern dance youth companies across the United States. The students create and perform choreographed works of their own, as well as choreography by guest artists and Repertory Etudes, which are short dances based on signature works of American choreographers and developed by the American Dance Legacy Institute. The company performs throughout the community as well as with other companies from around the country.

Most of the classes are geared toward young dancers, but the Creative Dance Company is comprised partly of teens. Many of the company members have been dancing for several years and are also experienced in other types of dance as well.

"My mom signed me up for Creative Dance Classes for Children when I was 3 or 4 years old and I absolutely loved it," said Katie Pierce, 15, a sophomore at Amherst High School and a member of the Creative Dance Company. "I loved creative dance from the minute I started it. There aren't a lot of rules to how you can move, which I like. ... I've been in [Creative Dance Company] from the beginning."

The company members rehearse every Saturday and are also required to attend at least one other class each week.

The company members must be able to work well in a group because the students all work together to create the dances.

"The company members collaborate to create original modern dance works," said Lipa-Ciotta.

Working together strengthens the dancers' bonds with one another because each respects others' original dance styles.

"We all get to know each other very well and feed off of each others' energy during performances and rehearsals," said Cecilia Hughes, 15, a sophomore at Amherst High School. "The teamwork required to create our own composition pieces brings us all closer."

"It's more than just dance," said Katie. "It's creative movement. It's a group effort. We share and combine ideas. It's important as a dancer to be accepting of other people's ideas -- it builds trust."

In addition to performing throughout the community, some dancers traveled to Jamaica in 2009 for an international conference, where they danced with people from all over the world.

"This summer some of the students, including me, get to go to Texas [for the daCi -- Dance and the Child International USA Conference]," said Katie. "I'm really looking forward to that experience."

Several of the teenage dancers said they are drawn to creative and modern dance because they enjoy the freedom of movement that it brings.

"I feel as though the creation of our composition acts as a creative outlet for me," said Cecilia.

Katie agrees. "I love dance because it can be a really great way to express yourself -- it was a great way to just go and have fun instead of always having to learn moves and steps. The atmosphere was really warm and fun and it didn't feel like work. I appreciate all forms of dance as much as I appreciate creative and modern dance, but creative dance is just really fun and free."

"[My favorite part of being a dance instructor is] seeing the young students' smiles and the joy that creative movement brings to them," said Lipa-Ciotta.

The company will be perform at 3 p.m. Sunday in the Flickinger Performing Arts Center at Nichols School, 1250 Amherst St.

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Allison Franz is a freshman at Sacred Heart Academy.