The roads that led Emilie Leriche and Andrew Wright to a renowned Chicago dance company began at age 8, but any similarities in their respective journeys end there.
Leriche, 19, grew up a tomboy in Sante Fe, N.M., and was "absolutely furious" at her mother's suggestion -- or rather, insistence -- that she take dance lessons at a local studio.
"I've been dancing ever since," Leriche said. "I guess the joke's on me."
Wright, now 24 and a native of Toronto, Canada, was the kind of kid who tried everything. Soccer, swimming and skating, but nothing captured his interest.
"I saw something about dance lessons in the newspaper, clipped it out and showed it to my mom," Wright said. "Dance was just what was next on the list."
That stuck, and now he and Leriche say they can't imagine doing anything else with their lives. It is, they believe, what they were put on Earth to do.
Leriche and Wright will be among seven dancers from the Hubbard Street 2 dance company performing Friday at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head Island. Tickets are $55 for adults and $45 for children.
The company is an offshoot of Chicago's famed Hubbard Street dance company and was created in 1997 to prepare dancers ages 18 to 25 for life as a professional contemporary dancer, said director Taryn Kaschock Russell.
"I'm hesitant to call it a first company because that really doesn't do justice to the dancers' passion and experience," Kaschock Russell said. "These are accomplished, fearless dancers. They see the trajectory of what can happen in their careers and so, for them, this is a very intensive period of personal and professional growth."
Each day, the dancers receive the kind of instruction, time and attention they might not otherwise receive as a member of a professional dance company.
The resulting growth and experience has helped dancers like Leriche and Wright reaffirm their love for the art form, but the transition from amateur to professional can be bumpy.
"There is a ton of self-doubt," Wright said. "In a profession like this, my job is really my life. This is everything to me. When you put so much of yourself into anything, it is easy to get knocked down, but everyone in the company is so close that we really lean on each other during those times. We are very much a family."
Next week's performance on Hilton Head will mark the first time the company has performed two new pieces choreographed by the winners of its annual National Choreographic Competition, a contest giving new and up-and-coming choreographers a chance to work with HS2's dancers.
This year's winners were Gregory Dalbashian of New York City and Norbert De La Cruz III of Los Angeles.
Though tight-lipped about the particulars of the performance, Kaschock Russell said she expects Lowcountry audiences to be wowed by the contrasting styles of the two new pieces.
"They are both very physical and emotional pieces of work," she said. "One is very precision-oriented and the other is very visceral and utilizes our entire collection of dancers."
Next week's performance is the company's first of 2013 and kicks off a tour that includes stops in Tuscon, Ariz., Wheaton, Ill., and Los Angeles.
While touring can be difficult, Leriche said nothing compares with the satisfaction of doing what you love for a living.
"This experience is really like honeymooning with your profession," she said. "It's so rewarding to be surrounded by people who are as drawn to this and as in love with dance as I am."
Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/IPBG_Patrick.