In 1984 Lorna Badon Knaus, owner / teacher of the Lorna Badon School of Fine Arts in Orange, thought of a way young dancers could expand their dance experience. 

That “ah-ha” moment was the birth of the Orange Jazz Company.

Knaus sought to, “give young dancers the opportunity to enhance their personalities and broaden their knowledge in the art of dance.”

There were 20-25 girls in that first troop, with the two youngest, Michelle McClelland and Erin Thibodeaux being 10 years old. 

Requirements now say dancers have to be at least 15 to join and have completed at least three years of ballet and jazz training. Most girls are a member of the group three years, until age 18.

Thibodeaux holds the record of longest membership at 11 years.

She stayed with the troop until age 21. McClelland, now a board member, danced with OJC eight years.

The second generation of dancers has started. Simone Moore danced with the group and now her daughters, Stephanie and Mackenzie, are members.

Judges come from all over to choose the dancers at auditions.

Unlike some groups that have a certain number of positions to fill, the OJC size depends strictly on the quality of the dancers. The original troop was the largest, while the smallest was eight female dancers with one male. This year’s company has 11.

It is not a case of once you’re in, you’re in. All dancers must audition each year.

The company always has a big concert in the spring. Normally it will contain 10 pieces. Local acts such as magicians or acoustical bands are also presented. “It is so not a recital. It is a true celebration of dance; a night of the arts, sit back and relax,” said McClelland.

The dancers also compete as a team at Dance Masters in January and one other competition in the fall.

Mandatory are Master Classes, where students learn choreography and all spectrums of dance at these contests.

“The company has been very successful. Many honors have been won on both the regional and national levels,” said Knaus.

Through the years, the group has performed whenever needed, including in nursing homes, Christmas parades and restaurant (such as the opening of Bridge City’s McDonald’s).

Laughing, McClelland said, “We would perform at the opening of an envelope.”

“I have seen many young girls grow and blossom,” said five year board member Roxanne Laughlin. “The discipline and responsibility they learn are forever etched in their characters. They not only grow in the art of dance but also as accomplished young women.” Laughlin has been a supporter of OJC for 15 years. 

Her daughter Amy is a new member of the group. “She has been taking dance for 13 years and has always dreamed of being on OJC since she was a little girl.”

“Miss Lorna always does a clinic for the young girls,” said McClelland. The dancers then perform their new routine at the OJC concert.

“My little boy is 6 and we’re going to have a Hip Hop clinic,” said McClelland.

As an added treat, McClelland said a reunion number is planned.

A social for all the former dancers is in the works and ‘Miss Lorna’ asks them to contact her at the studio, (409) 883-2469.

Knaus continues to be the artistic director for the group.

“She’s the mother hen and counselor. She’s everything,” said McClelland.

“It was some of the best times in high school,” McClelland said. “It was an awesome experience.”

The company’s annual concert is in April, with auditions in May.

As a nonprofit organization, they host fundraisers to pay for expenses during the year. The annual golf tournament is set for Sept. 27 at the DuPont Employees’ Recreation Association. For more information on that event, call Beth Watson at 670-3890.

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.