Until a few months ago, Audrey Richter didn't think of herself as a choreographer.
"I was a dancer," she said. "That's how I thought of myself, and that's all I ever wanted to be."
She may have to adjust her thinking a bit after this weekend, when she makes her professional debut as a choreographer.
Richter, a junior majoring in dance at the University of South Florida, gets her first experience with the world of professional modern dance tonight and Saturday through NewGrounds, an annual showcase presented by Moving Current, Tampa's premier modern dance company.
Every year, aspiring choreographers from around Florida, and sometimes from other parts of the country, vie for the chance to have their works staged at NewGrounds. Some are students, like Richter. Some are recent graduates just starting their careers. Some are professional dancers who want to move into new artistic territory.
Brie Hinman has a little more professional experience than Richter. She graduated last year from the University of Florida and moved to Tampa specifically to become an apprentice dancer with Moving Current. Like Richter, she'll make her professional choreographic debut with a piece she created as a student.
Her piece, Model T, looks at women's body images and the idea that there is only one "right" type of body that every woman should strive for.
"I was in a bathroom and I heard some women talking," Hinman said. "One said, 'My thighs are so fat.' Then another one said something about her butt. They all were saying something they didn't like about their bodies, and I just thought, that's not right."
She first staged her piece at UF and submitted a DVD for NewGrounds. To prevent favoritism, a panel of dance experts from outside Moving Current reviews the submissions and picks winners. The competition is tough: Most years, about a third of the applicants make the cut. Last year, it was closer to one-tenth, said Erin Cardinal, an artistic director for Moving Current.
Hinman's piece uses no music, just vocalizations and text created by the dancers.
Richter created her piece, Convallaria Majalis, for a choreography class she took as part of her USF studies. The title is the scientific name for the lily of the valley. The piece started, she said, as a look at the life cycle of the flower but evolved into a more symbolic work.
Even though she was reluctant to choreograph, Richter has found the experience enlightening.
"It's made me a better dancer," she said. "The dancers in my piece have really helped me with ideas, so now I see that dance and choreography can go hand in hand. As a dancer, I don't have to just replicate the choreographer's vision."
Both Hinman and Richter said NewGrounds offers opportunities beyond getting their work on stage and getting their first paychecks for choreography. The event bolsters dance in Tampa and around the state by bringing artists together to meet and to see each other's works.
"It's great for me to get my name out there," Hinman said. "People from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Gainesville will be here and they'll see my work. When you graduate, it's so easy to just fall back on your day job and make money. This helps me keep focusing on dance."