Dancing Through the Ages A Recap of my last 13 years of dance

When I was three years old my mom decided to enroll me in dance classes. My sister Charlotte, who was 5 at the time, had already been in dance for 3 years and absolutely loved it. My mom had worries, of course, but not what you have coming to mind. Most parents worry about their babies enjoying the class or them being a bother to the teacher, but mine had other worries. My mom’s main worry, in her own words, was “If I could handle being nice to the other kids and my teacher for 45 minutes”. I was a harsh baby, ask anyone in my family and they’ll tell you. Growing up, I’ve heard countless stories of how I would “beat and bite my sister”. But 13 years ago when my mom asked Mrs Callie, my dance teacher, how I had done, she was shocked to hear how good of a student I had been, and how willing I was to participate. She always tells me that it's the moment she realized I was meant to be a dancer.

My earliest memories of dance are two specific dances. The first was called "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini". My mom, even 13 years later, still refers to this as her favorite dance I have ever done. I assume it's because I was at peak cuteness and I had not yet grown out of my baby fat. I will admit that it's probably the cutest costume I have ever owned. It was two pieces, yellow, and, of course, covered in polka dots. It had black sparkles and frills all over it and it is still in our costume closet to this day, along with the little, pink towel we walked onto the stage wrapped in.
The other one called “Put on Your Sunday Best” will always stand out to me personally. The main reason I remember this dance is because it introduced me to one of my best friends, Addilyn Bills. This was the only year she and I danced together; she moved studios the next year and we ended up getting put at different schools, but I will never forget how close we got during that time and how we became close a few years later and have been friends ever since. We still talk about this dance to this day, and it's just sweet to think about how a dance class can bring two people together.

My dance team has always been my second family. I have been with and around most of the same girls since I was 3 and I will always cherish the bonds I have made with them. Even as I have grown up and been on teams with girls older than me, I have learned to adapt to their ways and they feel like family as much as the girls my age do. When I was in 7th grade I was put on a select team of all high schoolers, which I have since then been on, and it was one of the best years of dance I’ve ever experienced. It was amazing to experience a higher level of dance than I was used to and I think it made me grow as a dancer. That year I was also able to adapt to the older girls and make many friendships that I still cherish to this day. Being able to dance at a higher level has given me my competitive spirit and has taught me to look up to girls who are better than me, rather than letting them bring me down.

Not only have I danced with girls older than me, but I have also had this experience with girls much younger than me. My studio does a production number and finale each year which allows me to adapt and dance with little girls on their level and become more understanding of the fact that they are new to this and need extra love and patience. I have also learned from this how to handle and take care of a younger age group in a way they will listen to, whether that means being gentle or firm. These lessons have also been ingrained in me through working at my dance studio, Monday-Wednesday. I have worked with girls ranging from the ages of 2 to 16 (my age), and each age group has taught me different qualities I need to have as a leader. For example, the 2-year-olds need someone sweet to keep them entertained and focused, while the older girls need someone who can lead them through learning unfamiliar steps and improvement. Helping different age groups of girls and boys from different backgrounds has bettered me as not only a dancer but also as a person. With each team I have been on or helped whether it’s hip hop, ballet, or jazz, there is always an opportunity to to learn and grow as a friend, a leader, an example, and a dancer.

When it comes to being in competitive dance, you’re pretty much expected to learn and perform a solo each year. Some will start doing solos when they’re 2 or 3, others will wait until they're older and have more experience. I could sit here and say that I didn’t do a solo until I was 8 or 9 because I wasn't ready, but the truth is I was just flat-out scared. It wasn’t until I had a solo part in a dance one year that made me realized how much I truly love being on the stage, even if I'm by myself. My group dance that year was to the song “Rockin’ at the House of Mouse” and were each different Disney princesses. I was Belle and I started on stage initially introducing everyone to the dance. I remember having a breakdown before this dance because I was so nervous. All I could think about was messing up and making a fool of myself on stage. Although this was a small, 20-second part it opened my eyes to how much I love being on stage alone. Seeing the crowd react to what I did was a new feeling I had never experienced before Something awoke in me that day, and I realized that doing a solo was something I had been missing out on.
The next year, 2016, I performed a solo called, “I Want to be a Rockette”. That same year an older girl from a different studio did the same song as me. Although most people would be offended by this, I absolutely loved the idea that I was dancing to the same song as a girl I held to such a high standard. I felt pushed to do my best that year, so I could be just as good as her someday. The following year, 2017, after that my solo was called “The Girl in 14-G”. This was my first year performing a theatrical novelty solo, which was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I am a very animated person, so this genre of dance best suits my personality in all ways, and I have done that genre ever since.
My next solo, in 2018, was named “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” I vividly remember this solo because my “dance enemy” at the time, Bisi Ijagebmi, who is now one of my closest friends, was also doing a cat-themed solo. Luck was not with me that year, and she beat me almost every time we performed which took a major toll on my confidence. But, I truly believe that those losses just gave me more motivation to not only beat her the next time we competed but to work harder on my solo the next year. Since our birthdays are months apart, we compete against each other every other year. In 2019 I performed a solo to, “I’m the Greatest Star.” Fun fact: I danced to the Glee version of this song and not the original one sung by Barbra Streisand.

The following year, 2020, I performed a solo to “Make ‘em Laugh” from Singin’ in the Rain. This was Covid year so I had to wear a mask until right before I went on stage and had to put it back on right after. Little to no one was allowed in the audience, so we had to arrive at certain time incriminates to perform and leave right after. Most of my family watched me perform via livestream, and that’s also how I watched awards. This was the first time I ever won nationals with my solo, and ended up winning second overall at Grand Nationals. Despite everything that occurred that year, I persevered and did the best I could.

The next year, 2021, I performed “Call Me Back”. I absolutely LOVED my costume this year. In 2022, my solo was called “100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man”. This will forever be one of my favorite solos because it was so easy to act out and put my personality into. The judges always loved this solo every time I performed it and the costume perfectly fit the vibe of the song and choreography. Last year I performed “When Velma Takes the Stand” from Chicago the Musical and this year my solo is called “Ring Them Bells” from Liza With a Z. One thing I have loved about all of my solos is that I can express myself through the lyrics and choreography. Acting has always been one of my strong suits and being able to combine it with dance will always be one of my favorite things.

Along with solos, my sister and I have also performed a few duets together. Our first one was in 2016 to “Evil Like Me” from Descendants. My sister was Maleficent and I was her “daughter”, Mal. This duet was very special for my mom because our 2-year age gap had never allowed us to dance together, and seeing us on stage side by side was a new experience for her. This duet was a musical theater and allowed my sister to come out of her shell. I had always competed with a novelty solo but Charlotte usually stuck to tap. Together, we both learned many new aspects of dance and how to work with someone, as a dancer, that we usually didn't have to.

The next year I had the honor of being painted completely green. We performed “What is This Feeling?” from Wicked. This has and will always be one of my and my mom’s favorite musicals. This duet was adorable, yet it’s hard to see me in most videos because I was dressed in all black and I blended into every background at every competition. We took a break from duets for a while but we are finally doing one again this year. Since it is my sister's senior year we decided to do a duet that encompasses both of our strong suits. While my sister taps, I will be more focused on theatrical jazz. We are dancing to the song “It’s a Musical” from Something Rotten, which is also a throw back from two girls that did this duet a few years before us.

My freshman year of high school I was part of my school's pep squad, called the Starlettes. Of course before this and in addition to this I attended other workshops, my dance studio’s summer camps, and events other studios held but this was my first time being on a team other than my studio team. There were around 50 girls on the team, which was very new for me, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I was chosen as an officer along with 6 other girls my age, which was a huge, new learning experience for me. I have worked at my dance studio for a while teaching little girls, but I had never been in charge of girls my age in that way. I truly learned how to be compassionate towards not only the girls in my squad but the other girls on the line. Learning to handle being the girl’s friend while also being able to teach them and gain respect from them will always be one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned.
Now, my sophomore year, I am a part of my school's drill team called the Starsteppers. This has provided me with some of the best memories I have of not only dance but overall. Although coming back from summer and going to line camp, which takes place during one of the last weeks of the summer, where we learn all of our field routines for the year, isn’t the most exciting thing ever, it truly prepares us for the upcoming football season. With that being said, performing at the varsity football games on Friday nights will forever be some of my favorite memories. But I don’t just love the dance aspect, I also love how the team becomes your family. The closest friends I have are on drill team with me, and our bonds only continue to grow each day through practices, games, and parties. Next year, my junior year, I will be able to try out to be an officer and it’s such an exhilarating feeling. Although tryouts give me an overwhelming amount of anxiety, all the new possibilities and opportunities that come along with being an officer keep me going. Being able to lead a group of girls I love and cherish so deeply would be a dream come true.

Dance has always been “my thing” for as long as I can remember. It’s what I grew up committing my life to, and it’s what I hope to continue committing my life to. Dance can be painful, physically; damaging to your muscles, your bones, and your skin. But it can also be hard on you mentally. Comparison to those around you and anxiety of competitions and tryouts can overtake a person. But despite whatever hardships it may bring, dance will always be my safe place. To others, it may be seen as just rhythmically moving around to random songs, but for me, it’s a way to express myself and let go of any thoughts or emotions that are haunting me. Dancing is the best stress reliever, and I can enforce whatever emotions I’m feeling into my movements. Dance has some moral lessons, it teaches you not to give up perseverance, and It forces you to work harder. Through dance, you understand your emotions and know yourself better by understanding your talents in a way that you didn’t know until you were dancing. Dance has taught me a lot in life; self-confidence, learning to listen to my emotions, and understanding my feelings. Dance is deeply personal and it is a reflection of something within us that we can only do with the world.