Heather Britt was stunned.
 
Victoria Morgan, Cincinnati Ballet artistic director, had just asked her to choreograph a ballet.
 
"I was shocked," says Britt, up to that point best-known as the local guru of Rhythm & Motion, a wildly popular movement/exercise regime.
 
Britt had created dances before, but she thought of them as minor undertakings, requirements of her job as a dance teacher. What Morgan was proposing, though, required a real choreographer. In Britt's eyes, that was not her.
 
"What she was talking about was completely different," says Britt. After all, she had abandoned ballet. She was a modern dancer now and the queen of the local dance/fitness scene.
 
"I had never worked with dancers . . . with this much ability," says Britt, 38, a graduate of Cincinnati's School for Creative and Performing Arts. "I wasn't really sure if I was the right person."
 
That was 2009.
 
Today, Britt is arguably the area's most sought-after choreographer. She created choreography for an Ohio Lottery Commission commercial and for Playhouse in the Park. She's done two pieces for concert:nova, the area's edgiest chamber music group. She's choreographed several flash mobs, seemingly impromptu dances that unfold in public spaces. One was commissioned in 2009 by the Fine Arts Fund (now ArtsWave) to kick off its annual campaign on Fountain Square. (You can watch "Splash Dance," as it was nicknamed, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=EW58tCXeb80. Britt is the blonde in the striped shirt who starts the dance.)
 
She's in demand for more than her choreography, too. She teaches dance at Downtown Arts, has become a member of the faculty of Northern Kentucky University's department of Theatre and Dance and was invited to be part of the YWCA's Rising Star Program for young and promising professional women.
 
"It's been such a whirlwind," says Britt. And there's no sign of it stopping.

ON TO POETRY
 
She's creating her third piece for the Cincinnati Ballet's annual season-opening program, "New Works."
 
But this time Morgan, who has become something of a mentor to Britt, has given her a greater challenge. Rather than choreograph to music, she's asked her to work with the poetry of Tonya Matthews. Matthews, vice-president of museums at the Cincinnati Museum Center, is known as Ja Hipster in the world of poetry slams.
 
"This is really complicated for me," says Britt. "When I start a dance, I begin by looking for music. It's the music that inspires me."
 
Poetry is different, especially Matthews' poetry. Philosophically, Britt and Matthews are in sync. But the poetry that Matthews has shared with Britt tells stories filled with specific images. Britt considers herself a storyteller, too, but it's more impressionistic than literal.
 
"That's exactly why I asked Heather," says Morgan. "It's a challenge for her, a chance to grow and to learn more about herself as a choreographer. In her Rhythm & Motion classes, Heather has a way of convincing people that anything is possible. I guess I wanted to ask her to do something outside her comfort zone and convince her that anything was possible for her, too.
 
Working with Tonya should be great for both of them. Both of them are very smart and connected to the community."
 
That, of course, is the point of "New Works," giving choreographers, dancers, even the audience, an opportunity to take a chance, to experience new concepts, to play "what if."

TAKING A CHANCE
 
Britt says she's still nervous and uncertain when she begins a project, but chance-taking has always been something that defined her. At SCPA, she wanted to take the men's ballet class instead of the girls' pointe class.
 
"I wanted to work on jumps and more muscular things" she says.
 
It was a good decision. That muscularity has become a hallmark of her raw and robust choreography. For Morgan, it has offered a new view of her dancers as Britt's choreography has unleashed a side of them that is rarely tapped.
 
It's that same anything-is-possible attitude that convinced Margy Waller, ArtsWave's Vice President for Strategic Communications & Research, to hire Britt to organize that Fountain Square flash mob two years ago.
 
"I'll never forget watching her the night before the dance," says Waller. "It was one of the most amazing moments."
 
Picture the scene. Several hundred people packed into the Music Hall Ballroom who've been rehearsing in small groups for several weeks. This is their first time together.
 
"It could have been chaotic," says Waller. "But Heather's enthusiasm and high energy is so infectious that is makes every person who dances for her feel wonderfully talented and beautiful. She makes every body look good. And I do mean "every body" not just "everybody."
 
None of that surprises Morgan.
 
"People love to work for Heather," says Morgan. "She's sincere. She's human. She cares. And on top of all of that, she's gifted . . . She's the best."
 

 
NEW WORKS
 
Sept. 8-18, 2011
Cincinnati Ballet Center
Mickey Jarson Kaplan
Performance Studio
1555 Central Parkway


This season's New Works offers three world premieres commissioned by Cincinnati Ballet and one regional premiere. In addition to the work of Heather Britt collaborating with poet Tonya Matthews, it will include works by the Ballet's resident choreographer Adam Hougland, National Ballet of Canada's James Kudelka and Principal Ballet Mistress Johanna Wilt working with Cincinnati composer Rick Sowash.
 
For details, visit www.cballet.org. The box office is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m .Monday through Friday, (513) 621-5282.