Daniel Island dancer pursues Broadway dreams
Colleen Underriner knew that dancing was in her veins since she was three years old, but she never could have imagined where it would take her.
The 17-year-old multi-talented student, dancer, actor, singer and advocate recently moved to New York City to pursue her Broadway dreams through the professional dance program, Steps on Broadway.
Born and raised in Chicago, Underriner began her dance journey at the local park district in Wilmette, Illinois, before training at the Dance and Music Academy in Glenview. At age six, her weekends included dance competitions of group numbers, duets, and solo performances. Her life changed overnight when, in 2013, she lost her father to cancer.
“Being at home was hard for me,” she said. “It was sad and lonely. The dance studio became the place where I could lift my spirits. Dancing was really the thing that allowed me to express myself at such a young age. I learned to jump around, spin, turn, fall and get back up.”
In 2018, her family relocated to Charleston. Taking her pain and using it to help others, Underriner organized a “Day of Dance” fundraising event for the Lonon Foundation, a local nonprofit supporting children affected by a parent’s cancer diagnosis. Hosted by Underriner, the event raised over $3,000 for the Foundation.
The fundraiser involved dancing and acting classes for kids, showcasing the transformative power of dance in coping with grief. She also played a key role in organizing Charleston’s Community Moves, a workshop focused on teaching children with movement disabilities adaptive dance movement, allowing them to find joy in dance despite their disability.
As Underriner grew into her dance career, she joined the Dance Conservatory of Charleston (DCC). There, she studied under teachers from the New York City Ballet, studying ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, and contemporary dance styles. While she was committed to the program, she was faced with the challenge of balancing academics alongside her rigorous dance schedule.
Going to a traditional high school wasn’t in the cards for her. After discovering South Carolina Connections Academy’s (SCCA) flexible online education, she said the decision was an easy one.
"SCCA offered me the flexibility I needed. I remember the day I got accepted, my mom and I were driving in the car and she asked ‘Does this make your day?’ I told her, ‘This makes my entire life.’”
Throughout her high school career, Underriner was able to practice at several studios around the Charleston area, including Palmetto City Ballet, Holy City Hotfoot, along with musical performances at the Charleston Academy of Musical Theatre. Having graced the stages of productions such as Grease and Willy Wonka, she also contributed as a background dancer on the set of HBO's "The Righteous Gemstones."
She graduated early in November 2023 through Daniel Island’s LTP Scholars Hybrid Program, which allowed her to finish her personalized curriculum right in time to join New York City’s Steps of Broadway, a dance school that has trained professional dancers since 1979.
Her days now may be full, but the performer feels she is right where she belongs – dancing all day in the Big Apple and coming home to her one-bedroom apartment she shares with her mom. Her 9-to-5 consists of ballet, jazz, hip-hop, contemporary, vocal, and acting classes. After, she attends open classes of any style until 10 p.m.
She says she has been able to explore different cultural dances, including Bollywood, bhangra, and Afro-Brazilian styles.
“Every day I get to wake up and live my dream!” she said. “It’s super cool that I’m learning from these teachers that I’ve seen online forever. It feels surreal to be in their space dancing with them and taking their classes.”
As Underriner looks toward the future, she says her ultimate goal is to become a Radio City Rockette or perform in a Broadway ensemble. While her schedule is currently focused on training, auditions, and upcoming performances, the 4.0 scholar is also touring colleges as she debates whether to go fully professional once she turns 18.
Underriner credits the SCCA and her mother’s support for her success in the competitive world of professional dance.