It was more than a recital for children at Hill Country Youth Ranch, it was a showcase of storytelling

One of the dancers was so nervous that she thought boos would meet her as she performed. She didn't know what to expect in her dance showcase. What she got was a hearty round of applause from those who attended.

Dance instructor Camille Priour knew precisely what to expect — a memorable performance. Everything is about creating a positive outcome for the children who call the sprawling Hill Country Youth Ranch home.

Many of these children have experienced difficulties and trauma hard to comprehend for adults, but they were ready to perform. The nervous energy gave way to dances of all kinds — from a touch of ballet to a mix of hip hop. Whatever told the story was going to work.


Priour, the daughter of the ranch's founder, is a therapeutic dance instructor, but her range and role are far greater than a simple instructor.

"I played the mom in a lot of the dances," said Priour, who danced beside the girls in at least seven performances.

Of course, the Hill Country Youth Ranch is a family-focused place, exactly how founder Gary Priour wanted it. In the jubilant rush after the curtain fell, the excited girls ran to hug Camille. Gary Priour, also known as Papa to many of the children, was teary in the performance's aftermath.

"It's unbelievable from where they started to now," said a weepy Gary Priour, who founded the Ingram ranch in the 1970s.

Camille Priour made it clear that this was not a recital. This was a showcase. Dubbed "Mixed Emotions," nearly all performances told a personal story — some of their abandonment, abuse or neglect. Many of these children's trauma is told through art, and on a Thursday afternoon, it was through performance.

"Each one of these kids had a story to tell," Camille Priour said. "I think all of them were autobiographical. I worked with each one to pick their own songs. I didn't work with them to create their own routine; we worked on it together."

Some danced live, others performed via powerful videos produced at the ranch, but the impact was effective.

"They're used to people not showing up," said Krystle Ramsey, Hill Country Youth Ranch's executive director. "They're used to people being uninterested in what they were doing. So, the safe assumption is thinking that, and you won't be let down."

Ramsey said the experience of the showcase was a critical element of self-worth and value for those performers.

"A lot of these kids are treatment kids, who struggle emotionally, behaviorally, who can't sit in class for an hour," Ramsey said. "But the theater was quiet when kids were performing. They were watching and they were engaged. They were excited and cheering them on."

During the performance, it was clear that the audience knew the journey the dancer was going through or had overcome — making the moments all the more powerful.

"They are watching their own journey be played out on stage," Ramsey said of the children in the audience. "Although they're not performing, a lot of of these kids have walked the same path."

On this day, the path was through dance and in the end, as they all bowed, they had achieved something that many of them probably couldn't have imagined. For this moment, they were well-deserved stars.

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