High Image Dance History 101
At the sweet age of four, a wide-eyed Hillary High watched her very first dance recital with her mom, Kay, at the Marion Cultural & Civic Center. When the recital was over, Kay asked, “Do you think you would like to do that?” Hillary could hardly contain her excitement, and then and there a dancer was born. Hillary began and continued lessons in tap, jazz, and ballet at the Travelstead Dance Studios in Marion, IL until high school when she began dancing with the Wildcat pom team. Her time as a dancer in high school meant new adventures and incredible opportunities as a dancer including performing as a UDA All-Star dancer in Paris, France, London, England, and New York City, NY.
Just six months after graduating from Marion High School, Hillary was approached by her former dance teacher, Jeanne Delai, to purchase her small dance studio in Energy, IL. Only nineteen years old and a freshman on a Music Performance scholarship at John A. Logan College, Hillary took a leap of faith and a small business loan and became the owner of High Image Dance on November 22nd, 1995. During her first year she had ninety-five students.
Hillary continued to pursue her education by graduating from John A. Logan College as an Associate of Arts, and moving onto Southern Illinois University of Carbondale. As a Saluki, Hillary danced as an SIU Shaker, took a full course load, and kept up her dance studio. In the summers of 2000 and 2001, she continued her professional performance career with the Walt Disney World College Program (DCP) where she worked as an entertainer and a close personal friend of Pluto.
In 2002, Hillary graduated from SIU with a B.A. in Music Theater. At a dwindling moment in the history of the studio, enrollment dropped to just thirty students as she balanced student life with being a small business owner. With a degree and a dream, she shifted focus to her studio and family. She married her best friend, Jose Renda, and became mom to Gabriel and Isabella. Enrollment began to climb.
In 2008, as she prepared the studio for their very first Disney Performing Arts trip, Hillary was diagnosed with a case of meningitis. Hospitalized for weeks, she suffered extreme weight loss and severe pain. By the grace of God, she was discharged just in time for the trip. She refused to leave students without an instructor, so she continued on the trip. Watching how life-changing and all out magical the experience was for her students, bi-annual trips became a staple in the lives of High Image Dance students.
On May, 20th, 2016, Hillary and High Image Dance celebrated their 20th anniversary at the Marion Cultural & Civic Center. Student enrollment reached an all-time high at 155 students. Just seven months later in January of 2017, workers broke ground on a brand new facility, and a new era of High Image Dance was born. Looking forward, Hillary is continually thankful for an opportunity to share her love of dance with future generations of dancers.