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Troupe Dances in Grief

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DURHAM — A Durham dance troupe is staging a very special benefit performance this weekend, special because one of its members died last month. The performance is dedicated to Vanessa Hall.

The Company Dancers have readied their 11th benefit for Duke Children's Hospital this weekend.

One of their own was killed last month in a traffic accident. The Company Dancers have dedicated this weekends' performances to this special young lady.

They have grace and silent charm. They glide with a youthful ease... a poise shaped by experience that belies their years.

"It's going to be very hard," said Jamie Grissett, a dancer who had been Vanessa's best friend. "It's almost like we feel like we have to, for her. If it was the other way around she would do that and 10,000 times more for us."

Vanessa Hall joined the Company Dancers when she was very young. She was in rehearsals for this weekend's performances, posing as well for a photo for the program.

Butch Hall, her father, said dancing pumped his daughter up, that she would wear herself out dancing.

Vanessa's young life came to an abrupt end after a terrible traffic accident one month ago. For two days, machines at Duke Children's Hospital kept her alive. The ultimate irony, because the Company Dancers have raised more than $100,000 for Duke.

In death, Vanessa also touched lives. Fifteen people received her donated organs and tissue.

Right before her life support was halted, there was an unrivaled outpouring of emotion.

"Almost half the senior class signed out of school and went out there. Because everybody just wanted to be there," Jamie said, "even though there wasn't anything we could do, just to be there and be close to her."

Vanessa's closest friends were the group of nine young women whose bond was dancing.

But some see it as more than coincidence that Vanessa in a group photo, she was in the middle of them all.

To honor Vanessa, the nine will dance to her favorite song, which she had rehearsed with them.

"They have danced for all these years for the children," said her mother, Louise, "and this will be their last one."

Vanessa's passing has also taught these young dancers a lesson about commitment. That no matter how much they hurt inside, they can't show it. That the best way to honor Vanessa is to practice and sweat and strain and push each other, to use the performance as medicine to heal the hurt, so when they look back on this, they too will have touched people's lives.

"We did something beautiful that represented her, and how she was wonderful, what a great person she was. That everyone in the audience realizes what an impact she had on all of our lives."

The Company Dancers 11th annual Jazz program to benefit Duke Children's hospital will be Sunday at 3pm at Reynolds Theatre on the Duke University Campus.


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