OGDEN -- There have been tears aplenty over the leaving and letting go.
She will miss the students and the making of memories. She will miss rehearsals and concerts and a brand-spanking-new dance studio.
And she will miss the costumes.
Yes, 30 years worth of costumes that dance teacher Melanie Clifford loves so dearly that she has even given them names.
There are the beautiful white Icarus dresses, named after a dance about the character in Greek mythology. And the classy formal attire for her "Fred (Astaire) and Ginger (Rogers)" holiday waltz. And the "Singing in the Rain" umbrellas.
"Some of them are named after students, because it was their dance," Clifford says.
All of this will be left behind as Clifford steps down this month from three decades as director of the performing arts dance program at Ben Lomond High School.
"It's time," says Clifford, whose exit stage left was prompted by a recent knee injury that leaves her unable to demonstrate dance steps to her students with the passion she believes is necessary.
"I can't give them what they need," she says.
Even so, saying goodbye is difficult, because dance has always been Clifford's passion, from the time she was a 4-year-old living in Iran and twirling about in exotic costumes to piano music played by her mother.
"I always thought of myself as a dancer," the graduate of Weber High School says. "Nobody ever told me I wasn't."
For love of dance
Despite the sadness, the move to retire is exciting, too, Clifford says.
"There are so many things to learn. I feel like I'm just graduating from high school again -- what am I going to do?"
Maybe she'll learn to play violin, or pick up her guitar again, besides exercising to improve that knee and enjoying her family.
"I'm not going to teach high school dance again, I'm going to dance with my grandbabies instead," the North Ogden resident says.
Not much dancing was going on at Ben Lomond High School when Clifford first arrived in the fall of 1982. There were only two dance classes and not even a room where the students could practice.
"We danced on the stage," Clifford says, or if the theater students needed to rehearse there, "I just taught wherever I could find a hall."
But by the next year, Clifford had a full program of dance classes and her own studio. Today, the recipient of 1989's Utah Dance Educator Award estimates she's schooled more than 6,000 students in the art of modern dance.
A wide range of students have been drawn to Clifford's program "for the love of the dance," says Peggy Dooling-Baker, acting principal of Ben Lomond High, and Clifford has helped stretch and expand their knowledge and creativity.
"We just love her and we're going to miss her desperately," says Dooling-Baker.
But the program Clifford established and nurtured will go on. "We want to build on the foundation she's given us and make it stronger."
Although her training was in the classical realm, Clifford says she's always gravitated -- ever since her childhood dancing in Iran -- to the modern dance she taught at Ben Lomond.
"My base was ballet, but my innate sense was modern," says Clifford, who also taught at Kearns High School and Ogden's Mound Fort Junior High before coming to Ben Lomond.
What does she love about dancing?
"I think it's the expression of it and the ability to touch hearts where maybe words can't," the Weber State University graduate says.
That feeling is something Clifford wants to pass on to her students, the idea that "they can move, they can express the joy of the moment."
But her job is really about much more than teaching teenagers how to execute dance steps, she adds. Through dance -- through all of the arts -- students learn about working toward a goal, communicating, cooperating and being kind to one another.
"I don't care if they become dancers," Clifford says, "but they need to become better people."
At the dance company's final concert under Clifford's direction in May, the students gave their instructor 34 red roses -- one for each of her years of teaching.
"Mrs. Clifford changes lives; Mrs. Clifford changed my life," said Linda Sanchez, a senior member of the dance company, after the concert.
Sanchez said she had never danced before she enrolled in Clifford's class as a freshman and now she plans to study dance at college next fall.
"I love her. ... She opened my eyes to different views of everything," Sanchez says.
For Faith Shreve Chapman, a 1995 graduate of Ben Lomond High and former member of the dance company, it's hard to imagine her alma mater without Clifford -- "the heart of the school."
The dance instructor had a gift of turning students who "felt invisible" in school into performers, says Chapman, even when those students didn't fit the expected mold of what a dancer should be.
"She never gave up on anybody," Chapman, of Ogden, says. And Clifford was always passionate, Chapman adds, often telling her students, "I will push you just far enough -- just far enough -- until I know you can fly."
Clifford, who is also an honors English teacher, admits she's "kind of a preacher" to students at her school. One message is encouraging teens to look beyond high school and plan for their future, such as attending college or trade school.
"Success finds a way, failure finds an excuse," she often reminds them.
The instructor also arranges for her dancers to perform at Weber State University or work with professional Utah dance companies so they can see that "people who have goals and go for it, they can succeed."
Dance allows her students an outlet for expression, Clifford says, for themes ranging from the joy of sisterly love, to the horrors of abuse, to the desire to take care of the planet.
They are dances this teacher never forgets -- just as she never forgets the dancers.
"Some of these kids will still write me or send me an e-mail and say 'A song came on the radio (that we danced to) and it made me think of you.' ... It touches your heart."