“Come, and trip it as you go, on the light fantastic toe,” John Milton wrote in his poem “L’Allegro.”
That’s exactly what Hadley Howell devised for the cast of the annual Carey Dinner Theater at William Carey University in Hattiesburg this summer, where she choreographed “
,” a show saluting the 1930s and 1940s where the performers could and did trip the light fantastic.
It was a new experience both in role and genre for Summit native Howell, who learned to dance at The Dance Studio in McComb, where she now teaches some classes.
“I’m much more about technique as a teacher,” Howell said. “I had choreographed a little, but I had never choreographed a whole show like I did for Carey, start to finish.
“Working with people who weren’t trained dancers was also new for me.”
And all those dancers she designed steps for were taking their cues from someone not really attuned to the type of show Carey produces annually.
“I’m not a musical theater person,” Howell said. “My style is ballet.
“But it was a lot of fun and pushed my boundaries. I tried a new thing, and enjoyed a new experience.”
She was not the first Pike Countian to get that experience.
Howell’s teacher at The Dance Studio, Nancy Wingo-Caffey, spent many years choreographing the summer shows for William Carey after her own dance teacher had done the same.
She joined a line of continuity not just in the dance family, but in the theatre family, as the program is still led by O.L. Quave, who originated the Dinner Theatre in 1974.
Quave “has been there all 45 (shows), and to work with the same director Miss Nancy and her teacher worked with is very special,” Howell said.
The Carey Dinner Theatre brings in theatre students from across the country to practice for a week and a half and then put on shows every night for a month.
This year’s cast included students from Oklahoma City, Alabama and Clemson universities, among others, and they made an impression on Howell.
“The people I worked with were triple threats who could sing, dance and act,” she said. “Most people only do one. They were great learners. The ones who can sing and dance at the same time are amazing.”
Getting en pointe
Howell started dancing young, as most successful dancers do. She was exposed to ballet in third grade, and “it just clicked,” she said. “I fell in love with it, being able to express myself through movement.
“In fourth grade, I got my first pointe shoes, and I stopped participating in all my other sports, so I could be committed to the studio. I got to go around the state to dance and work on my art. I wouldn’t trade the world for it.”
That was a bit of a departure for a member of a family she described as sports-oriented and competitive.
Howell said she lived out her sports dream through her twin sister, but “on stage, I’m able to live my dream. I become a different person. God put this in my life, and I’m grateful that I’ve been able to learn how to dance and now teach dance.
“This is my lifestyle. The art grabbed my attention, and I just love it.”
She is a bit rueful that performances of dance like ballet aren’t more widespread and popular, and understood, in the South.
“It tells a story in a graceful and classical way, in a different vocabulary,” she said. “You don’t realize how hard it is until you try it. You have to be an athlete. Some of the strongest people I know are dancers.”
Her father, Paige Howell, a Southern Miss athletic booster, didn’t take to the art as much, at least at first.
“It was hard for Dad. He had to give it a chance,” she said. “The more you know about it, the greater the appreciation you have for it.”
The show goes on
While new to the musical theatre realm, Howell looks forward to getting another opportunity.
“I feel confident I’d do it again. If they asked, I’d say yes,” she said. “I loved it, and I learned a lot from it. I hope it will open more doors.”
While ballet is her love, she is also trained in tap, jazz and other dance styles, and she added a dance performance minor to her communications major at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she is now in a master’s degree program in communications.
With that background, “I’m not constrained to ballet. Ballet is the foundation, but it helps with so many other styles,” she said. “I can expand and do so many different things.”
She’s still somewhat amazed that she, hailing from Summit, was chosen to help produce a major show in Hattiesburg, but she’s anxious now to see what’s next.
“It shows small-town people can do big things,” Howell said. “A small-town dancer can choreograph shows like this. I’m just going to get my feet wet and dance through life.”