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The Christmas Extravaganza

The Academy of Dance studio performs for a cause

It was more than 20 years ago when Linda Haas first saw Heather Hopkins, the baby sister of one of the girls in her dance class. Heather was just three months old, but suffered from a severe facial deformity where blood vessels in her face had swelled up under her skin and continued to grow.

“It was heart wrenching for me to see this beautiful little girl suffer,” said Haas, who opened The Academy of Dance and Gymnastics in Newport News more than three decades ago.

The Hopkins family turned to Dr. Bill Magee, CEO and co-founder of Operation Smile, who operated on Heather’s hemangioma and has continued to work with her since.

“Watching the transformation that resulted from the gift of a smile was life-changing,” said Haas, who witnessed Heather’s growth while also learning more about Operation Smile.

Since then, Hass has devoted her annual Christmas show to entirely benefit Operation Smile.

“Ms. Linda was clearly concerned about me,” said Heather, now a 21-year-old college student. “Ms. Linda has such a passion for Operation Smile, and I love that she continues to bring awareness of such a great organization to our community.”

Over the past 19 years, donations from "The Christmas Extravaganza" have brought life-changing surgeries to 714 people around the world.

“I can’t think of a better cause,” Haas said. “That’s what keeps me going year after year. I’ve seen how Operation Smile changes lives here and around the world. It just makes me want to reach out and do more.”

Dancers who grew up under Hass’s direction continue to come back to Newport News year after year for the special performances of "The Christmas Extravaganza."

Tiffany Hass, Linda’s daughter, who was once a former Academy dancer and went on to become a Miss America contestant and is presently in the Broadway cast of Wicked, said performers are often looked up to as role models in the community.

“I believe we have the additional responsibility to lead by example and make an effort to help those in need,” she said. “Operation Smile is a wonderful way to fulfill that responsibility. I was fortunate enough to go on an Operation Smile medical mission to Venezuela and participate in their wonderful work. I saw firsthand how Operation Smile changes lives forever.”