Six months ago, Susan Hartley struck a deal with several of her students. She told them that she'd take them to Miami to perform at the Orange Bowl. In return, they had to promise that come December, rehearsals would be their priority. Both sides kept their ends of the bargain. On Thursday night, during halftime of the Orange Bowl at Dolphin Stadium, five top students from Hartley's Dancemoves Studio in Largo will appear on national television. This is the second appearance at the Orange Bowl for a Dancemoves troupe. Hartley's students also performed in 2001. "But I would say the biggest appearance was at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1998,'' she said. For Hartley, who has owned the studio since 1988, the 75th Orange Bowl will be remembered as an adventure in choreography. Because of a last-minute change in the music for the event's headliners, the Doobie Brothers, Hartley did not receive a DVD outlining the choreography until Dec. 16. "We planned on receiving it in November. It's definitely been challenging,'' she said. The five students, ranging in age from 12 to 20 have gathered at the studio off Starkey Road for daily rehearsals since the start of their school break. One of the dancers, Candice Greene, 14, acknowledged the choreography has been overwhelming. "But, I've learned the more you practice, the better it looks,'' said the Seminole High School freshman who has studied dance with Hartley for 12 years.
On Monday night, several hundred Orange Bowl dancers met for their final evaluation and placement assignments. "After the evaluation, the fun will begin,'' Hartley said. As a teenager, Hartley performed on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City as an opening act for Gary Lewis and the Playboys and Herman's Hermits. She is eager to watch her students receive instruction from the celebrity choreographer, actress Mandy Moore, known for her work on the hit TV show So You Think You Can Dance. "You see her on TV with dancers who are nearly professionals," Hartley said. "It'll be cool to see how she deals with dancers on the same level as the ones I'm teaching.''